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Black bear management

Important changes to the 2021 bear season application

The Wisconsin Black Bear Management Plan 2019 - 2029 was developed by the DNR Bear Advisory Committee and approved by the Natural Resources Board in May, 2019. Among the changes are new zones which are being finalized through legislative review. The bear application period, which normally opens in March, will open shortly after the legislative process is complete. The 2021 bear application deadline will still be December 10, 2020. Applicants are reminded to be aware of the new bear management zone boundaries as their hunting grounds may be in a new unit starting 2021.

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Wisconsin is home to a thriving black bear population estimated at more than 24,000 bears. The black bear's primary range is located in the far northern third of the state. Due to a growing population, bears are becoming much more common in the lower two-thirds of the state than ever before.

Wisconsin's bear population is managed primarily though hunting by offering hunters a quality experience while being managed under a strict quota/permit issuance system designed to ensure the long-term future of the population. More than 119,000 hunters applied for 11,535 permits in 2020, making the wait to receive a harvest permit approximately 1 to 11 years, depending on the bear management zone. However, when one finally receives a permit, the opportunity to harvest a bear is better than 40 percent for most zones and some of the biggest bears in the country are taken in Wisconsin. Several bears registered by hunters each year top 600 or 700 pounds!

In 2019 wildlife biologists in Wisconsin began conducting a new research technique for estimating the bear population, which helps develop guidelines that will ensure a prosperous future for the species. This research was highly dependent on the hard work of not just department biologists, but also federal and tribal partners, who during spring and early summer, placed over 800 hair snares across Wisconsin bear range. Each hair snare consisted of a liquid bait surrounded by a single strand of barbed wire. Biologists visited each site weekly to collect samples of bear hair from the barbed wire, and samples were then sent to a laboratory so that the DNA could be isolated and individual bears could be identified. During the 2019 bear season, hunters were asked to submit two premolar teeth, rather than the single tooth required in previous years. DNA will be extracted from the second tooth to identify bears that had previously been "marked" at a hair snare. This "marked/recapture" study will help determine an estimate of just how many were living in the wilds of our state.

Black bear general public and applicant survey reports completed

The Wisconsin black bear general public survey was conducted in 2017 among Wisconsin residents regarding the general public's awareness of and attitudes about black bears. A report has been produced, the General Public Survey Final Report, to summarize the results received.

The Wisconsin black bear applicant survey was conducted in 2017 among bear harvest permit applicants and it examines applicant's current satisfaction with and preferences for black bear hunting opportunities in the state. A report has been produced, the Black Bear Applicant Survey Final Report, to summarize the results received.

Further information on bear management in Wisconsin

Contact information
If you have any questions please contact:
Matt Gross
Assistant Large Carnivore Ecologist
Last revised: Tuesday February 18 2020