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Hunt bears next fall? MDC wants public input

Wes Johnson
Springfield News-Leader

Should Missouri start hunting black bears next year?

Beginning Friday, Oct. 16, the Missouri Department of Conservation wants to hear from the public about a possible bear hunting season no sooner than the fall of 2021.

MDC is accepting comments through Nov. 14 at www.mdc.mo.gov/bears.

According to MDC Furbearer Biologist Laura Conlee, Missouri’s bear population in recent years has been growing at about 9 percent a year. That’s based on several MDC research projects, including one where conservation staff locate bear dens, tranquilize the mother bear and check on the health and status of the sow and her cubs.

MDC uses a population growth model, based on the health of those surveyed bears, to estimate how many black bears are roaming Missouri.

In 2012, MDC estimated there were 350 black bears in the state, most south of the I-44 corridor.

A 2-year-old black bear was seen roaming the east side of Joplin within city limits. It was captured July 11 and later euthanized because it had become accustomed to finding food near people's homes.

By 2019, the black bear population had grown to between 540 and 840 bears, according to researchers.

Based on their current population growth rates, Conlee estimated the number of Missouri black bears could double in 10 years.

According to MDC, there has never been a documented case of a black bear attacking a human in Missouri in modern times. But as bear numbers increase and their population expands closer to where people live, more bear-human encounters may become likely.

One way to keep bear numbers in check is through a limited hunting season, but MDC wants to hear from the public first before weighing whether to establish a hunting season.