By Becky Johnson
A public hearing on changes to the state’s hunting and fishing rules, including looser rules for black bear hunting, will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 14 at Tri-County Community College in Murphy.
It’s one of nine public hearings held around the state by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission as part of its annual hunting and fishing regulation updates.
This year’s list includes changes to black bear hunting regulations that would increase the number of bears shot by hunters. That, in fact, is a stated goal of the Wildlife Commission.
The agency wants to bring the rising black bear population in check, and hopes hunters will step up to the plate.
“One of the goals of the new North Carolina Black Bear Management Plan is to stabilize North Carolina’s bear population. This will not be possible without a significant increase in harvest,” according to the Wildlife Commission’s stated justification for suggested changes to the black bear hunting rules.
The official public hearing will begin at 7 p.m., but a presentation on the black bear management changes will begin at 6:30 p.m.
Proposed black bear changes include:
• Allow still hunters on private land to set out food piles to lure bears. Still hunters could attract bears with piles of unprocessed food (like apples, corn or raw peanuts) and then hunt them when they come around looking for the food pile — except hunters can’t shoot the bear while in the process of actually eating from the food pile. It only applies during the first week of bear season. Bear hunters using dogs on private land are already allowed to use food piles. Bears coming to the food piles leave a scent trail, which the dogs can then follow.
• Allow bear hunting in the Piedmont zone of the state, with the goal of limiting the bear population in the state’s most populous counties by encouraging bear hunting. There are relatively few bears in the Piedmont, so it is unlikely hunters would venture into the woods specifically to bear hunt, but bear season would mirror the dear hunting season to encourage opportunistic taking of bears by deer hunters.
The Wildlife Commission had been considering other changes to black bear hunting regulations as part of its new black bear management plan. But the other changes — which were more controversial — did not show up on this year’s list of proposed hunting changes. Those had included:
• Making bear season longer.
• Increasing the bag limit from one to two bears a year for an individual hunter.
These proposed changes could resurface at a future time but are not included in the current proposal.
“If the Commission were to make numerous changes at the same time, we would not be able to evaluate which regulatory change contributed to a change in bear population levels. So in order to separate the impacts of different management changes the Commission strives to make only one significant change at a time,” according to Kate Pipkin, a rules biologist with the wildlife commission.
There are a total of 42 proposed changes to hunting and fishing rules. Others include:
• Allow daytime hunting of raccoons.
• Create a Wildlife Poacher Reward Fund, offering up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of poachers or hunters violating wildlife rules. It would be funded with a portion of restitution proceeds and fines paid by poachers who are caught.
• Require display of the vessel registration decal on both the starboard and port side bow of a boat.
• Designate 0.5 mile of the West Fork of the Pigeon River in Haywood County below Lake Logan as “Public Mountain Trout Waters” limited to catch and release and artificial lures only.
• Reclassify 0.5 mile of Skitty Creek in Macon County from Hatchery Supported Trout Waters to Wild Trout Waters not supported by trout stockings.
• Allow the sale of mounted wild animals, or stuffed animal parts, with a permit, except for black bear, wild turkey or migratory game birds. It is illegal to sell mounted wild animal heads to discourage the commercial hunting and trafficking of animal parts. But the Wildlife Commission would like to accommodate the sale of mounts, particularly by people who have unwanted mounts they’ve inherited, through a Trophy Wildlife Sale Permit system.
The public hearing will be held in the Enloe Multi-purpose room on Campus Circle.
A booklet detailing each of the proposed wildlife management, hunting and fishing proposals is at www.ncwildlife.org/portals /0/regs/documents/2014-15-publichearingbooklet.pdf.
Those who can’t make the meeting may submit comments via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment online by going to the list of the hunting, fishing and wildlife management proposals at ncpaws.org/paws/wrc/publiccomments/publicentry/publiccomments.aspx.