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The Missouri Department of Conservation is looking into a “limited and highly regulated” hunting season for black bears, to be open only to Missouri residents, and the department is seeking public comment on the proposal through June 5.

If approved by the Missouri Conservation Commission, a bear hunting season could happen as soon as fall 2021, according to a MDC news release.

“The hunting season would provide Missouri residents with the opportunity to participate in the sustainable harvest of a valuable natural resource. The timing and length of the season, restrictive methods and permit allocation coupled with a harvest quota will initially be limited to ensure a sustainable harvest of our growing black bear population,” MDC furbearer biologist Laura Conlee said in the news release.

Conlee added limited hunting will be an essential part of managing the population of Missouri’s black bears.

The bears were “historically abundant” in Missouri’s forests before European settlers arrived, but unregulated hunting and loss of habitat through logging drove the state’s bear population to near-extinction by the late 1800s.

However, the population of bears has increased over the past 50 years in the Ozarks, and the state is presently home to 540-840 black bears, according to MDC.

The bears live south of the Missouri River, and primarily south of Interstate 44, so MDC is proposing to establish three bear management zones in the southern part of the state.

The proposed hunting season of the bears would begin on the third Monday in October each year and run for 10 days, or until management zone quotas are reached.

The quotas would be set each spring by the Conservation Commission, based on MDC recommendations, and there are no quotas yet for the future season.

Hunters would need to call each morning they intend to hunt to know whether a quota had been reached.

There would be a limit of one bear per permit, and only single bears could be harvested.

Hunters would not be allowed to disturb, pursue or harvest any bear that would take refuge in a den.

Hunting hours would be a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. Archery and firearms would be allowed, with allowable methods being the same as for deer or elk, except the use of an atlatl.

Baiting and dogs would not be allowed “but may be considered in the future,” according to MDC.

Permits would be required and limited in number for each management zone. The application would cost $10 per applicant — who would need to be Missouri residents and only allowed to apply once per year to hunt in one of the three designated management zones.

Hunters selected for a permit could purchase it for $25. A person would need to be at least 11 years old and have completed hunter education — or be exempt from it — by the time of the hunt in order to purchase a permit.

Each permit could be used on public or private property within each management zone.

Permits would be selected each summer by random drawing, and there would be no “sit-out” period or preference points given, although at least 10 percent of permits would be awarded to qualifying landowners — who would need to meet the same eligibility requirements as deer and turkey landowner permits and would need at least 20 contiguous acres within the management zone for which they would be applying.

Once harvested, bears would have to be telechecked by 10 p.m. the day of harvest, and the bears would need to be intact as a field-dressed or quartered carcass until telechecked. A tooth from each bear would also need to be submitted within 10 days of harvest to help MDC staff with research and management.

Comments on the proposed hunting season can be submitted at mdc.mo.gov/bears.

The site also features the three goals of the state’s bear management plan for the next 10 years:

• “Use science-based methods to manage a self-sustaining population of black bear, focusing on research and monitoring, population management and habitat management.

• “Increase statewide awareness of Missouri’s black bear population and management program through coordinated outreach and public education.

• “Minimize and address human-bear conflicts.”

Written comments about the proposed hunting season can be mailed to: Missouri Department of Conservation, Attention Michele Baumer, PO Box 180, Jefferson City, MO, 65102.

After public comments are reviewed, recommendations will be finalized for submission to MDC’s Regulations Committee in July. The recommendations would then move forward to the Conservation Commission for consideration in September.

If approved, the proposal would be published in the Oct. 15 edition of the Missouri Register and be open for public comments through Nov. 15, before comments are summarized and presented for final consideration at the commission’s December meeting.

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