Vermont's population may be shrinking in terms of people, but that's certainly not the case when it comes to bears.
"People know, it's no secret in Vermont we've got a growing bear population. They're showing up everywhere over the state," said Mark Scott, the director of wildlife at Vermont Fish and Wildlife.
Biologists say there are at least 6,000 bears in Vermont-- a number that has doubled in just two decades. More bears mean more bear encounters. From the campus of the University of Vermont to a neighborhood in Essex to a governor who had a "bare" encounter, in multiple senses of the word.
"It was seven feet from the door when I slammed it and I thought, that bear's coming right through," Gov. Peter Shumlin said in April 2012.
As the population has doubled, so, too, have the number of human interactions, the number hit by cars and the number bagged by hunters. And Scott says more of the animals than ever before are living near people.
"Bears can live and thrive well in Vermont as long as they're not living in someone's backyard all the time," Scott said.
To get the black bear numbers down, Fish and Wildlife is making some changes to the upcoming hunting season, trying to force the bears away from people and back into the woods. For hunters that means an extended bear hunting season-- four more days during the November deer season. Also new-- early-season bear hunters will have to get a $5 tag that biologists will use to gather data. The goal is to bag an additional 50-100 bears and to get a better sense of how to handle the increase.
"Hunting is a real deterrent to keep bears wild, keep them away from people," Scott said.
So close encounters with a growing bear population don't become a growing trend.
Despite all these changes, the annual black bear bag limit for a hunter still remains at one. Fish and Wildlife says it is considering raising that limit in the future.
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