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VA - Undersized bear shot on first day of hunt in Dismal Swamp

Undersized bear shot on first day of hunt in Dismal Swamp
By HATTIE BROWN GARROW, The Virginian-Pilot
© December 1, 2007
Last updated: 10:53 PM

SUFFOLK

The first bear – albeit an undersize one – was bagged at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge kicked off its second two-day black bear hunt Friday morning, to the dismay of animal-rights advocates. The bear that was shot was under the 100-pound minimum, a violation of state law, said refuge manager Chris Lowie.

The male bear was confiscated as evidence, and the person who killed it was ticketed. In addition, the permit of the hunter, who was not identified, was revoked.

D.J. Schubert, a wildlife biologist for the Alexandria-based Animal Welfare Institute, called the event “tragic.”

“We don’t believe there’s any justification for this hunt,” he said.

Nearly all of the 48 permitted hunters showed up at the swamp Friday. Though weather conditions were ideal, Lowie said he heard of no other bear sightings.

“It’s a nice, cool fall day. There’s barely any wind,” he said. “It’s a nice day to be in the woods.”

No measures – such as a longer hunt over a larger area or additional scouting time – were taken this time around to ensure that at least one bear would be taken, Lowie said. Not a single bear was bagged last year.

The hunt is taking place on roughly 21,000 of the refuge’s 111,203 acres.

Fifty hunters, each allowed to bring one guest hunter, were eligible to purchase the $50 permits. A computer lottery in October selected which applicants could participate in the hunt.

All those who participate, guests included, were required to pay for a permit. One day was designated for hunters to scout the swamp.

Nearly all of the 234 people who applied for the bear hunt live in Virginia, said Philip Boyce of CyberData, the company contracted to handle the lottery. The rest hailed from Georgia, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia.

Last year’s lottery picked 100 hunters, but they weren’t allowed to bring a friend. The refuge decided to make a change after hearing from those chosen. “We found out that some people got selected, but their buddies didn’t,” Lowie said. “They didn’t want to go it alone.”

The refuge’s bear population is estimated at between 300 and 350, and should not be adversely affected by the hunt, Lowie said. Officials are allowing no more than 20 bears to be killed over the two days.

“We’re just taking all the precautions we can to not hurt the bear population,” Lowie said.

The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 included hunting as an appropriate public use of the refuge system. Deer hunting is the only other type allowed in the Great Dismal Swamp.

The Animal Welfare Institute and one other animal-rights organization sent an eight-page letter to the refuge, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, condemning the bear hunt. It also requested that a new environmental impact review be done before deciding whether to hold the hunt next year.

“It’s not surprising to me that only one bear has been killed so far,” Schubert said. “It’s consistent with what happened last year. … Maybe that population is not as large as they think it is.”

Hattie Brown Garrow, (757) 222-5562, hattie.brown@pilotonline.com

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