Rep. Owlett talks with game commissioners

Representative Clint Owlett talks with members of the Pennsylvania Game Commission at Game Commission Night.

That was part of the message that the Pennsylvania Game Commission shared with a crowd of 140 residents in Wellsboro last week. This year’s Game Commission Night was organized by state representative Clint Owlett to educate the public on black bear management in the state, and to introduce two new game conservation officers serving the Tioga County area. A highlight of the evening was the tagging, tooth extraction and measurement of a live bear. The Wellsboro Fire Department Annex hosted the event.

The main program was presented by Pennsylvania state bear biologist, Mark Ternent, who has more than 30 years of working with bears. Ternent said that there are presently about 20,000 black bears in Pennsylvania, and the population is thriving. He reported that because of great habitat, Pennsylvania bears start reproducing earlier and have larger average litters than in other states.

The picture has not always been so rosy for bears, as by the 1920s most of the forest in the state had been logged. A crisis point was reached in the 1970s, and it was recognized that bears were being over-harvested. At that point, the state initiated an ambitious plan with six key elements: 1) establishment of check stations to capture data on all harvested bears; 2) research; 3) statewide tagging; 4) temporary season closure in fringe counties; 5) a restocking program; and 6) creation of a bear hunting license.

The success has been obvious. Ternent reported that since the early 1980s, there has been an 8% annual increase in the bear population and an 8% annual increase in the bear harvest.

Ternent said that “hunting is our main tool to control population.” He explained the game commission carefully monitors the bear population and growth rate, the number of bear licenses sold, and the success rate with the goal of maintaining the bear population at its current levels. If harvest numbers drop, as they have in the past two years, the Commission has the option to add bear hunting opportunities, such as implementing this year’s early, three-day, muzzleloader season.

Officer Rodney Mee presented a preliminary report on research his daughter is conducting on alternative drugs for immobilizing bears. The new compound, NALMED-A, is not a controlled substance and offers much shorter recovery times than the traditional drug. The study is ongoing.

After the two presentations, the crowd was given the opportunity to observe the ear-tagging, tooth extraction, and measurement of a 2.5-year old sow, earlier trapped in Centre County.

The night also included the introduction of two new conservation officers serving this region. Officer Mike Smith is a recent arrival in Wellsboro, having grown up hunting and fishing in Perry County. Officer Smith was in the eighth grade when he decided he would one day like to be a game warden. The second new warden for the area, Officer Nelson, was unable to attend Game Commission Night.

Game Commission Night has become an annual tradition. It is open to the public and there is no cost to attend. Owlett reported that next year’s event will focus on the success of the state’s elk management program.