Black bears are one of those most beloved species in Vermont and a favorite subject among wildlife watchers and photographers. Watching cubs tumbling through the summer grass while mama watches carefully over them, is one of the treasures of living in a state that black bears call home. In addition to the joy they bring to wildlife watchers, they play a crucial role on our landscapes as large carnivores for a variety of reasons, including forest fertilization, acting as an indicator species for potential environmental issues, and contributing to the dynamic balance of Vermont’s ecosystems.
Bears have very low reproductive rates and undergo a unique reproductive process called delayed implantation. They don’t become sexually mature until about three and a half years and females give birth every other year. After mating, the fertilized egg does not become placed into the mother's uterus and grow until fall. This process is called "delayed implantation." The egg will begin to grow only if the female has attained a minimum body weight of 150 pounds. The female's ability to produce cubs relates directly to fall food supplies. If the food supplies are poor prior to denning, the female may not have enough fat reserves to grow a cub, and so no cubs will be born. In addition to relatively low reproduction rates, sows tend to their cubs for about a year and a half. During this time, cubs learn all of life’s valuable lessons and how to be a successful adult cub. If the sow is killed, the cub will either die from starvation or predation or be ill-prepared for life for life on its own.
Vermont does not have an overpopulation of bears. In fact, our landscape can accommodate more than the current estimated population of 4,000 - 4,500 bears. Vermont’s bear population was estimated to be at its highest in 2010 at around 7,000 bears. Bear populations are limited by the social carrying capacity (the capacity that humans will tolerate), not the capacity of the land, otherwise known as the biological carrying capacity.
In Vermont, bears are terrorized through the woods most of the year, starting on June 1st which is the start of hound "training" season that runs all summer long. Then hunting season starts on September 1st and runs through the end of November. Vermont’s hunting season is one of the longest in the country. More than 920 bears were hunted and killed during the 2020 hunting season in Vermont. That is approximately 20% of the bear population, which greatly concerns us. And that number doesn't take into account how many bears (and other wildlife) are injured every year and never recovered. Bears are also killed every year due to feeding on corn and other bear attractants.
Sow and Cub | Addison County, Vermont | June 2020