The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will present proposals in public hearings around the state in January that will affect major changes for black bear hunting regulations.

The Commission voted on which proposals to hunting, fishing and trapping regulations to take to nine public hearings at its meeting on Nov. 7 in Raleigh.

The proposed bear-hunting regulation changes mainly arise from requests by the agency’s executive director, Gordon Meyers, and David Hoyle, a wildlife commissioner, who convinced the 2013 General Assembly the Commission should manage bear hunting, not the legislature. Management authority was granted in a bill signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory.

The major thrust of the bear-hunting proposals concerns dates and lengths of seasons and what kinds of foods can be used to lure bears into range of hunters.

Colleen Olfenbuttel, a Commission biologist whose concentration is on fur-bearing animals, said six proposals could affect bear hunters.

* All Piedmont counties from the Virginia border to the South Carolina border and west of the deer-dogging line (where dogs can’t be used to hunt deer), will be open but only to still- or stand-hunting, except Robeson County;

* Wake, Harnett, Hoke, Scotland, Franklin and Warren counties would be considered part of the Piedmont;

* Piedmont hunters could hunt bears only during the gun season for deer, and they could use non-processed foods to create bait piles. Treated seed peanuts would not be allowed. Hunters also could not shoot bears during the act of consuming food. This regulation addresses the alleged inequity of bear hounds being permitted to strike a bear’s trail at a bait pile while still hunters could not hunt over bait. Hunters could choose their weapons: guns, archery equipment or muzzleloaders;

* In counties outside the Piedmont, still hunters would be allowed to hunt over unprocessed food during the first six days of bear season, including Columbus and Washington counties;

* Robeson County would be considered part of the Coastal Region, and still- hunting over unprocessed foods would be permitted the first six days of that season;

* A few counties were added to bear season areas last year as the Commission sought to prevent the expansion of the animals into the Piedmont. This proposal adds those counties – Stokes, Yadkin, Alexander, Iredell, Catawba, Vance, Warren, Johnston and Harnett – to the Piedmont and would allow a hunting over unprocessed foods during deer gun season for still-hunters instead of the previous three-week bear season; 

“We will continue to monitor bear ages and weights,” Olfenbuttel said, “but we wanted a better handle on how many bear hunters we have in North Carolina. Next year, when the $10 bear stamp becomes a regulation (lifetime license-holders may obtain a free stamp), we’ll have an even better idea about pressure on bears.”

Olfenbuttel said hunters annually harvest about 17 percent of the estimated statewide population of 16,000 bears. To stabilize the population, which has been growing at a 6-percent annual rate, hunters need to harvest 22 to 27 percent of all animals.

“We want to stop bear expansion in the Piedmont, where we don’t have good bear habitat, too many people live and we have too many highways,” she said. “We also will monitor the harvest to see if (hunting over) unprocessed foods changes the quality of our bear population.

“We can tweak the harvest; we can change the length of seasons, bag limits or stop the use of processed foods.”

Public hearings are scheduled at 7 p.m. for:

* Jan. 7, Bladen Community College, Duplin;

* Jan. 8, Graham Courthouse, Graham;

* Jan. 9, S. Stanley High School, Norwood;

* Jan. 14, Tri-County Community College, Murphy

* Jan. 15, 1924 Courthouse, Newton; 

  • * Jan. 16, The Walker Center, Wilkesboro; 
  • * Jan. 21, Swain Auditorium, Eden;
  • * Jan. 22, Courthouse, New Bern;
  • * Jan. 23, Nash Community College, Rocky Mount.