Open Season on America’s Bears

Loved on the internet. Hunted in the wild.

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Jim Urquhart / Reuters

States are increasingly loosening restrictions on bear hunting to limit the animal's population growth.

Bears may be beloved online (just check out the reaction to the Panda Cam’s return after last year’s government shutdown) — but they’re increasingly being treated as a pest in real life.

A number of states are loosening restrictions on bear hunting after years of strict regulations aimed at protecting the animal. In Kentucky, the state expanded bear hunting to 16 counties last year from four in 2012 while adding an archery and crossbow season. The result: 20 black bears killed in 2013, filling the state’s quota and almost doubling the previous year’s total.

In Vermont, hunters purchased more than 10,000 bear licenses for the first “early season” bear hunt, far more than the state fish and wildlife department expected. North Carolina is considering allowing hunting in its Piedmont region, a central plateau generally not known for bears, while also extending the season. In Pennsylvania, where an estimated 14,000 bears now live (up from roughly 4,000 in the 1970s), the state’s game commissioners are mulling an expansion of its hunting season as well. Thirty-two states currently allow bear hunting, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

(MORE: America’s Pest Problem)

This expansion of hunting comes as bear populations are exploding around the U.S. Florida, which hasn’t allowed bear hunting since the 1980s, is now home to thousands of bears. North Carolina’s bear population is the highest in at least 100 years, according to biologists and officials with the state’s Wildlife Resources Commission.

As Mark Terment, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s bear biologist, put it to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “there are certainly enough bears out there.”