Managing Black Bears on a Public Game Land in North Carolina: Are the Desires of Hunters Compatible with Unrestricted Public Hunting?

We used mail surveys to examine attitudes and methods of black bear (Ursus americanus) hunters on Van Swamp Game Land (Van Swamp). Van Swamp was located in eastern North Carolina and managed as an open public hunting area, with no restriction on hunter numbers or vehicular access. Reported bear harvest was higher in 2001 (22) than 2002 (4) or 2003 (8). Hunters in all three years generally believed that Van Swamp had “about the right number” of hunters (≥57%) and that “too many” bears had been harvested (≥38%). Retention of hunters from year to year was high (≥70%) and, generally, a minority of hunters each year were in favor of specific management actions designed to limit bear harvest or hunter densities. Hunting method (i.e., hunting with dogs vs. still hunting) was related to hunter opinions on some questions. Although hunters identified problems with overharvest of bears, there was no mandate for management changes to address that issue. Our study may demonstrate that bear hunters do not feel a necessity for conservation of public lands (“tragedy of the commons”) and points out the need to communicate to hunters possible negative consequences of such overharvest.

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