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Pennsylvania Game Commission reports final numbers on 'historic' bear harvest

STEVE HEISER
717-505-5446/@ydsports
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is reporting a state-record, black-bear harvest of 4,653 in 2019.
  • The final numbers for Pennsylvania's 2019 bear harvest are now official.
  • The Pennsylvania Game Commission reports that 4,653 black bears were harvested.
  • That sets a new state record, besting the previous mark of 4,350 set in 2011.

The final, official numbers are in.

The most recent Pennsylvania bear harvest did indeed set a state record.

According to a news release from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the state's hunters took 4,653 black bears this past fall.

In 2018, the PGC reported that the bear harvest was 3,153, which was 11th best all-time, but also the lowest bear harvest in the past 11 years.

So, according to the PGC, the overall bear harvest increased by a third from 2018 to 2019.

Bears were taken in 58 of the state's 67 counties and 22 of the state’s 23 Wildlife Management Units.

Largest bear: The largest bear taken in the 2019 seasons is the 813-pound male taken with a rifle on the opening day of the general season in Smithfield Township, Monroe County, by Victor M. Vassalluzzo, of Kintnersville.

The heaviest bear ever taken in Pennsylvania was an 875-pounder harvested in 2010 in Middle Smithfield Township, Pike County. Since 1992, seven black bears weighing at least 800 pounds have been lawfully harvested in Pennsylvania hunting seasons.

Leading counties and area counties: Lycoming County finished with 284 bears to take the top county bear harvest. It was followed by Clinton and Tioga counties, both with 267. Other top counties for bear harvests in 2019 were: Huntingdon, 180; Potter, 174; Luzerne, 163; Pike, 161; Bedford, 156; Centre, 146; and Warren, 146.

In York County, one bear was harvested in 2019. Eleven bears were taken in neighboring Adams County, 27 in Cumberland County and 67 in Dauphin County.

Harvest increase was sought by PGC: With a statewide bear population of approximately 20,000 bears over the past several years, it was a harvest increase that was sought by the PGC, which had employed the largest suite of bear-season changes ever approved in a single license year.

“There were 30 days of bear hunting across all bear seasons in 2019,” said Mark Ternent, agency biologist, in the news release. “The last time that happened was in 1931.”

The state's previous top bear seasons occurred in 2011, when 4,350 bears were harvested, and in 2005, when 4,164 were taken.

In recent years, PGC officials blamed the reduced bear harvests on bad breaks with weather, particularly on opening days, when hunter participation is typically at its highest. Opening-day harvests are normally responsible for 50% to 60% of a bear season harvest

Numbers up across the board: Over the course of bear hunting’s three major season segments hunters took 1,629 bears in the general season; 1,340 in the muzzleloader and special firearms seasons; 1,117 in extended firearms seasons; and 561 in the bear archery season. The muzzleloader, extended and archery harvests are all new record harvests, too.

“To have three independent bear seasons with harvests in excess of 1,000 is surely historic,” Ternent said in the news release. “But when a record 202,043 hunters buy licenses and can (participate) in the opening days of four seasons that weren’t impacted by poor weather, there’s always a great chance for hunter success to increase.”

Adding a week in 2020: Despite the size of Pennsylvania’s bear harvest, it’s still within a harvest range in which the PGC is comfortable. That compelled the Board of Game Commissioners to add a week to the 2020 bear archery season.

“Pennsylvania has the best bear population monitoring program in America and is a leader in bear management among eastern states,” PGC Executive Director Bryan Burhans said in the news release. “If season (adjustments) are needed in future seasons, we’ll know quickly and adjust accordingly.”

Regional bear harvest numbers: Following are the complete bear harvests for the Southcentral and Southeast counties, according to the PGC. The first number is the 2019 harvest, followed by the 2018 harvest numbers.

Southcentral –  731 (474): Huntingdon, 180 (142); Bedford, 156 (80); Fulton, 80 (58); Perry, 68 (31); Mifflin, 54 (29); Franklin, 47 (26); Juniata, 42 (34); Blair, 40 (44); Cumberland, 27 (12); Snyder, 25 (7); Adams, 11 (7); and York, 1 (4).

Southeast –  185 (137): Schuylkill, 79 (50); Dauphin, 67 (48); Berks, 17 (8); Northampton, 16 (17); Lehigh, 4 (4); and Lebanon, 2 (10).

Information for this story was provided by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Reach Steve Heiser at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.