LAWRENCE TWP. – Numbers were down at the Lawrence Township Fire Hall bear check station this weekend compared to in past years when the check station was operated at S.B. Elliott State Park. The check station was relocated to the fire hall, which is located in Clearfield County, this year. In 2010, a total of 101 bears were processed at the station after being harvested on opening day; however, this year only 64 bears were brought to the site on Saturday, followed by three more on Sunday.
Cal DuBrock, Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Management director, remarked on Saturday afternoon that the change in location had not kept hunters from finding the check station.
"It looks like people have been pretty successful [in harvesting bears] and they're finding the location, which is always a concern when you change locations," DuBrock said.
Still, Matt Lovallo, Pennsylvania Game Commission Game Mammal section supervisor, noted that things were a bit slower than expected Saturday.
"I think it's maybe a little slower than what we expected this morning, but that doesn't mean we won't get twice as many tonight. It's pretty nice weather and I imagine people have harvested a number of bears and they're continuing to hunt all day. We'll expect it to really start picking up around 3:30 p.m.," Lovallo said Saturday afternoon.
He also noted at that time that it remained unclear what impact moving the station would have on which hunters decided to bring their bears there.
"We used to get quite a few from St. Marys and we don't know yet whether those bears are [now] going to the Quehanna check station [or to another location]. We really don't know what the effect of moving this station - we've only moved it 10 miles - but what the effect will be on where people take their bears. We won't know that until after the season," Lovallo said.
As of about 3 p.m. Saturday, 20 bears had been processed at the site, only one of which was from Elk County: a 138-pound adult female harvested in Horton Township.
All bears are required to be brought to one of the PGC's check stations within 24 hours of being harvested.
"It's important to document the harvest," DuBrock said. "We're trying to look at the age distribution of the [bear] population, where the harvest is occurring in the state, which management units, whether a bear has been previously tagged or not, the condition of the bear, and we're looking for evidence of any health issues in the bear population as well. Those are the principal things."
According to DuBrock, all of the information allows the Game Commission to estimate the state's bear population at the management unit level.
Lovallo added that the Game Commission has a statewide bear tagging program that aids in providing an estimate of the size of the population.
"Each year, primarily conservation officers tag around 700 bear statewide, so we look for those tags in the harvested bear and that proportion lets us estimate the population," Lovallo said.
DuBrock estimated that the state's bear population prior to the start of hunting season was around 18,000.
"We've been averaging a little over 3,000 bears a year being taken in the state, so we're hoping for something in excess of that this year because bear complaints have been up," DuBrock said.
He added that most of the bears taken in the annual harvest are usually fairly young, typically between two and three years old. He estimated that a bear would be considered pretty old if it reached the age of 20.
While there are bears throughout the state, DuBrock indicated that it remained uncertain how available they would be to area hunters.
"One of the things that's difficult this year is that there's generally been mast failure in this part of the state and there's not a lot of food, and so the question is how available bears are going to be to hunters," DuBrock said.