Outdoors Notebook: Bear harvest down, carp curbs proposed

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Through careful hunting management, and despite great habitat losses, Pennsylvania increased its estimated black bear population from fewer than 5,000 in 1980 to about 18,000 today -- more bears than at any time since European settlement.

The state Game Commission attempted to tap the brakes on bear population growth during the 2012 hunting seasons with the adoption of liberal harvest regulations, including a four-day statewide archery bear season, a four-day statewide general bear season, extended seasons in specific Wildlife Management Units and permission for hunters to lawfully take a bear during some other hunting seasons.

According to preliminary harvest results, the bears are not cooperating. Bear check stations reported 2,639 killed by hunters during the four-day season, down from 3,154 in 2011, and 2,815 in a three-day season, including a Saturday opener, in 2010.

The number is sure to rise as additional reports are tabulated. Harvest results from the early bear seasons, including the statewide archery bear hunt, will be available mid-December, and the official total bear harvest results will be released in 2013.

The largest confirmed kill, so far, was a male taken in Monroe County weighing 709 pounds. Notable bear harvests include a 620-pound male taken in Potter County by Robert A. Pitts of Meadville, and a 573-pound male taken in Forest County by Michael J. Kelly of Ross.

Invasive carp

The carp are coming. Bighead and silver carp, imported from East Asia to curb algae growth at commercial ponds, have devastated aquatic habitats since escaping into American waterways. Prolific breeders, they dominate rivers, crowd out sporting fish and have even injured boaters who were stuck by huge airborne carp leaping from the water at the sound of a motor.

The federal government and states from the Great Lakes and Mississippi valley areas, including Pennsylvania, agree the fish need to be stopped but haven't come to a consensus on how to do it, who should be in charge, who should pay for it and, in troubled economic times, how to pay for it.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania), recently cosponsored a bipartisan bill with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) that would designate leadership, partners and goals of an unfunded project to curb the carp. Under the proposed Strategic Response to Asian Carp Invasion Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would lead a multi-agency task force including the National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey and Army Corps of Engineers charged with providing technical assistance, setting best practices and coordinating the efforts of state and local governments to stop the spread of Asian carp.

"Southwestern Pennsylvania's iconic Three Rivers -- the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio -- are vital for both commerce and recreation," said Sen. Toomey in a prepared statement. "The spread of Asian carp in the Ohio River threatens this, and the federal government must act as a cooperative partner with state and local governments to stop this invasive species and protect the Ohio River basin's ecosystem and economy."

State Fish and Boat Commission executive director John Arway said the agency welcomes the proposal.

"Counties in Pennsylvania's portion of the Great Lakes and Ohio River watersheds account for more than one-third of all fishing licenses and boat registrations sold in the commonwealth," he said. "As an Ohio River and Great Lakes state, we see the bill as complementary to efforts to keep Asian carp from entering Lake Erie by attacking the problem further downstream before the destructive fish get closer to potential pathways between the Ohio River and Great Lakes watersheds."

Alaska angling

Each September the International Angler fly shop in Robinson books a fishing expedition at a lodge on Bristol Bay, Alaska. At a Dec. 10 meeting of Penn's Woods West Trout Unlimited, the shop's Bob Phillips will screen a DVD about threats posed to the bay's world-class fishing by mining operations. Donations to stop the mining will be matched by the lodge. 7 p.m. Brentwood VFW, Route 51, Brentwood.



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