Bear hunting an ‘overlooked source of protein’

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

There’s either been an explosion in the black bear population in northern Alberta, or the bears are just getting bolder about coming into towns looking for food. Or both.

Either way, there are lots of them and wildlife biologists aren’t shy about recommending hunting as a way of reducing the population.

“There is no other big game animal in Alberta you can hunt through both spring and fall seasons,” says Jim Castle, senior wildlife biologist for the Lesser Slave Lake region.

Bear meat is a good and overlooked source of protein, Castle says, and the area provides “excellent hunting opportunities.”

Bear baiting is legal in some wildlife management units, Castle continues. On the other hand a ‘stealth hunter’ can have success, and fill the freezer this fall. And again in the spring, if he or she likes.

Alberta has an estimated 40,000 black bears, or rather ‘had’ at some point a few years ago when studies were done using radio telemetry and assumptions about range size factored in. Nobody really knows, but evidence in recent years suggests there are a lot of them. Notoriously, one visited a barber shop in Slave Lake back in August, and another was caught on security video entering the Red Earth Inn.

Trends in black bear hunting in Alberta show a peak in license sales in the late 1970s and a steady decline from there to the late 1990s. Since then the number has climbed, “with approximately 12,000 licenses sold each year since 2008,” says a 2016 black bear management report by Alberta Environment and Parks. Around 1,700 licenses are sold each year to non-resident bear hunters. Those result in about 2,800 black bears being legally harvested per year in Alberta by hunters. Another 210, on average are euthanized as ‘problem’ bears.

But what about that black bear meat? Castle says it’s delicious, and bear fat is also excellent for cooking.

George Gruenefeld, in an article in Outdoor Canada, writes about how surprised he was when ‘forced’ into dining on bear meat as a guest.

“It’s similar to venison, only sweeter,” he said.

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