Va. black bear population steadily on the rise

About 70 years ago, Virginia’s black bear population was down to about 1,000. But thanks to factors such as reforestation and state management, black bears have been thriving in the state.

Current estimates put the Virginia black bear population between 18,000 and 20,000.

The typical bear ranges from 175 to 400 pounds — some can be larger — and they can live for 30 years or more.

The Charlottesville Daily Progress reports that, perhaps ironically, one of the best indicators of how many black bears there are in Virginia is how many hunters have killed during the hunting season. And they calculate that partly by counting teeth.

Beginning in 1991, hunters were required to report to bear checking stations, where a small premolar tooth was extracted for officials to determine how old each bear was. There’s an electronic checking system now, but hunters are still required to send in the tooth — and most of them do.

The Department of Wildlife Resources says it has boxes and boxes of black bear teeth, and they don’t plan to do anything different until they run out of space.

Efforts to support the black bears in Virginia have been so successful that, a few years ago, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources began to try to reduce populations.

A new hunting season was added in western portions of Virginia, which are considered strongholds of bear in the commonwealth. In 2019, the agency expanded firearm hunting of black bears in Southwest, Southside and portions of eastern Virginia.

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