Colin Carpenter, the DNR's bear project leader, said permits for those counties would not be made available until September, when agency officials have conducted their annual mast survey and know how much food would be available to bears and other wildlife.
"In years when mast is abundant, bears tend to hibernate later. When mast is scarce, they hibernate sooner," he explained.
The current plan is for DNR officials to announce the number of available permits between mid- and late-September, and to conduct a random drawing for those permits not long afterward.
The agency's biologists also proposed to create a three-day mid-October firearm season for bears and do away with the unpopular six-day September firearm season.
"We think bear hunters will like that proposal," Ryan said. "They didn't like the September season because of the heat. This proposal moves that early firearm hunt back three weeks, when it should be cooler and not put as much stress on the hunters, their dogs or the bears."
The September season will remain in effect for eight southern counties where bears are especially abundant.
"We kept the September season down there in an attempt to focus hunters' attention down south, where the bag limit is two bears instead of the usual one," Ryan said.
Hunters will have a chance to comment on the proposed changes at a series of 12 public meetings held throughout the state. DNR officials have scheduled the meetings for March 18 and 19. Members of the state Natural Resources Commission will vote on the proposal at their late-April quarterly meeting.
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.