A black bear peeps through the foliage at his photographer in the Big South Fork backcountry. (Independent Herald photo/Ben Garrett)
A black bear peeps through the foliage at his photographer in the Big South Fork backcountry. (Independent Herald photo/Ben Garrett)

 

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has proposed a black bear hunting season for the northern Cumberland Plateau, including part of Scott County.

The proposed archery-only season will be on private lands only in Scott County, due to the geographic restrictions of the proposal.

The Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission, which has the authority to declare hunting and fishing regulations on recommendation from the wildlife agency's biologists, will consider the proposal when it meets later this month.

TWRA's proposal comes on the heels of a 2013 survey that concluded there are nearly 300 black bears on the northern Cumberland Plateau, most of those on the Tennessee side of the TN-KY border.

With the exception of a few transient bears, the bulk of that population can be traced back to a 1990s release of 14 sows and 16 cubs in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. While the current population is still mostly centered in the BSF and neighboring public properties, Pickett State Park and Daniel Boone National Forest, bear sightings have become a common occurrence in residential areas in recent years. A hunting season to keep the bear population in check has been expected for the past two years, but TWRA held off on proposing a hunt until its survey — which was conducted with the cooperation of several other agencies, including the National Park Service — showed sustainable numbers of bears.

The proposal is for a bear hunting season in Scott, Fentress, Morgan, Pickett and Cumberland counties. In Scott County, hunting would be restricted to areas west of U.S. Hwy. 27 and would exclude the Big South Fork NRRA. In Pickett County, hunting would be restricted to east of S.R. 111, again excluding the Big South Fork. In Cumberland County, hunting would be north of Interstate 40 only. Hunting would be county-wide in Fentress and Morgan counties, with the exception of the Big South Fork.

The hunt would take place Sept. 27 through Oct. 24, the same dates as Tennessee's archery-only deer hunt. Like the deer hunt on those dates, the bear hunt would be restricted to archery equipment only.

The bag limit for Tennessee bear hunters is one bear per calendar year, regardless of which of the state's bear zones they are hunting in.

The proposal for a bear hunt comes just four years after elk hunting came to Scott County. A limited elk hunt — only six hunters are chosen to participate — takes place on the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area each October.

According to a 2013 story in the Independent Herald, bears are now widespread in the Big South Fork and surrounding private properties. Dustin Burke, currently a law enforcement officer with the Oneida Police Department and TWRA, and formerly a ranger at Pickett State Park, told the Independent Herald then that he monitored 28 traps in BSF and Pickett during the survey.

"At my traps, I collected well over 1,000 samples," Burke said at the time. "Out of 28 traps, I had only one that was not touched by a bear."

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