SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia wildlife officials want to change 2013's black bear hunting season dramatically, but they don't want to change the antlerless-deer season much at all.
A parade of Division of Natural Resources biologists outlined the proposals at Sunday's quarterly meeting of the state Natural Resources Commission, the panel that sets hunting seasons and bag limits.
Under the proposals, bear-hunting regulations would be significantly more liberal than in recent years.
The largest change would come in the state's mountain counties, where firearm bear seasons have been restricted to the month of December since 1977.
If the proposed regulations are approved, bears could be hunted with firearms during the 12-day late-November firearm season for buck deer, in addition to the traditional four-week December season.
Chris Ryan, DNR's game management services supervisor, said the idea is to control the bear population by enticing hunters to kill enough females.
"We did a [scientific public-opinion] survey of all the state's counties to determine what [bear] population level people are willing to tolerate," Ryan said. "Using the findings from that survey, we fine-tuned our population objectives for each county. These regulation proposals are designed to keep those populations in line with our management objectives."
The affected counties would be Barbour, Braxton, Clay, Grant, Greenbrier, Hardy, Lewis, Mercer, Mineral, Monroe, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, Summers, Taylor, Tucker, Upshur and Webster.
To prevent hunters from killing too many bears, DNR officials would limit the number of bear-hunting permits available in those counties.
"Hunters would apply for the permits, and they would be issued through a random drawing, just like we do our antlerless-deer permits," Ryan explained.
During the mountain counties' concurrent bear-buck season, dog use would be prohibited, just as it is in southern counties where bear-buck hunting has been allowed for the past several years.
DNR officials are also proposing to move the mountain counties' September firearm season into October.
"Having it in September was mainly to avoid any conflicts with the archery deer season," Ryan said. "Then the archery season got moved up to an earlier start. We figured that if the two seasons were going to overlap, we should move the bear season later so the weather would be cooler for the hunters, the dogs and the bears."
Under the proposal, the season would be shortened from its current six days to just three, which this year would take place Oct. 14-16.
Affected counties would include eastern Barbour, eastern Braxton, southern Clay, Grant, Greenbrier, Hardy, western Mineral, eastern Monroe, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Preston, Randolph, Tucker, eastern Upshur and Webster.