Minnesota’s bear harvest has dropped 33% since last year’s season. And specialists believe it’s due to an abundance of natural food and slightly less interest in the sport.
The season opened on September 1, and hunters had only recorded 1,857 bears by the 26th. Last year at the same time, they had registered 2,770.
There are exactly two weeks left before the season closes for the year, so the total could still rise. But historically, the brunt of the bears is harvested at the beginning of the season. So officials aren’t expecting a rebound.
The reason that people have been so unsuccessful this year is that plenty of natural foods like berries, hazelnuts, and acorns are available in the forests. And those are leading the animals away from bait piles, according to the DNR. In 2021, a severe drought made food scarce in the area, which made bears walk right into the traps.
Also, despite the state offering the same overall number of permits this year, about 200 fewer were sold this year. So on top of hunters having a hard time finding bears, there are fewer trying.
Plenty of Food and a Smaller Harvest Should Make the Bear Population Rise
DNR bear project leader Andre Tri told the Pioneer Press that the healthy forestland and lower-than-average harvests will likely lead to a rise in population in the spring. However, she’s unsure if that will affect how many permits they allow for the upcoming season.
“There are still lots of chokecherries, dogwood berries, and acorns out on the landscape,” Tri shared. “This will be a good winter for cub production indeed.”
Minnesota residents have been showing less interest in hunting over the last decade, but the bear season had gained popularity until this season. Last year permit requests rose 11% from the prior season. And it jumped 57% since 2009. Meanwhile, deer hunting licenses had dropped by 12%.
The licenses sold seem to follow the trend of the rising and lowering population. Over the past nine years, the population in MN went from 12,995 to 15,257. In 2000, bears hit their historic high with 18,268. And that led the DNR to push hunting to bring the population down because the animals were wreaking havoc on the farm region while searching for food.
But that year led to an overkill that has since left wildlife specialists trying to find a better balance between quotas and hunting licenses. The DNR will spend the winter crunching number to decide how it will approach the next season.