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For some, Utah's 4,100 black bears have set an exciting benchmark for the rebound of a historic predator.

Others — especially wildlife managers who killed 81 bears for safety reasons this year — worry that total may be too many.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) is now proposing changes that could increase the number of bears taken by hunters in 2015, saying the moves could reduce deadly encounters and stabilize the bear population.

An average of 50 Utah black bears are eliminated annually by federal or state wildlife managers. Despite good forage conditions, most of the unusually high number of bears killed by managers so far in 2014 were targeted for depredation, such as eating livestock; others were considered a risk to humans.

Leslie McFarlane, mammals program manager for DWR, said bear incidents were up across the state, but the Wasatch Front and Uinta Basin stood out as hot spots.

McFarlane attributes the increase of removed bears to the overall increase of both bears and people in the same places. The number of black bears in Utah has doubled in the past 15 years and it's growing by 5 to 6 percent a year.

But some question the state's numbers and the rationale for boosting the number of bears killed.

Western Wildlife Conservancy director Kirk Robinson believes the division's modeling for bear counts is suspect.

"I seriously doubt if DWR has any idea how many black bears there are in Utah. You can't count a statewide population of bears," Robinson said. "This is all based on modeling, and all models of this kind rest on doubtful assumptions. The total population could easily be several hundred fewer, quite possibly as few as 2,500. Almost certainly, it is not more than 4,100. This high population estimate is not reliable."

Robinson believes a growing number of people are knowingly, or unknowingly, doing things to attract bears that then become a nuisance. He would like to see the wildlife agency do more to educate the public before turning to hunting as a solution.

The number of bears killed by Utah hunters over the past three years ranged from 230 to 270 animals. Proposed changes to the 2015 hunt — increased hunting opportunities and permits — could push that number to between 300 and 320 bears.

Among the proposals:

• Hunters with a spring limited-entry permit could use training dogs or the spot-and-stalk method. Hunting over bait would not be allowed. The season would run from April 4 to June 5.

• A summer limited-entry permit would allow hunters to use bait with a firearm or archery equipment. Dogs would not be allowed. The season would be scheduled for June 6 to July 2.

• A new fall limited-entry and archery-only hunt would be held in the Book Cliffs. The permit would allow hunting with bait, but hunters would be required to use archery equipment. No dogs would be allowed for the Aug. 10 to Sept. 11 hunt.

• The fall limited-entry hunt could be done with dogs, bait, spot-and-stalk, and with a firearm or archery equipment. The hunt would run Aug. 22 to Sept. 28 and again from Oct. 31 to Nov. 19.

• The number of harvest-objective permits would be limited and could be bought over the counter. Biologists would set a quota of animals that could be killed and once the number was met, the hunting area would be closed.

Critics say government wildlife managers' counting methods are unproven. They worry the interests of wildlife lovers are not being heard by an agency focused on "managing" the animals.

Robinson said he was the only person representing "nonconsumptive" interests at an informational meeting in mid-November hosted by wildlife resources. About 20 people attended — most representing hunting interests.

"DWR claims that black bear nuisance and depredation problems have increased in Utah, along with an increase in the black bear population," Robinson said. "Why is the black bear population increasing so dramatically in the 'Wasatch Mountains West' [including Wasatch, Summit and Salt Lake counties]? I don't know why ... but I don't think DWR knows either. At the very least, they should have a better understanding of the causes of the increase — if there has been one — before they start trying to curb or reduce the population."

Public comments will be gathered and each regional council will vote whether to accept, reject or tweak the proposals. That information will be shared with the Utah Wildlife Board, which will weigh the comments and council votes before making a decision on the black bear proposals at a meeting in Salt Lake City on Jan. 8.

Twitter: @BrettPrettyman —

Hunting black bears

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials will present proposals for changes to the 2015 black bear hunt during a series of Regional Advisory Council meetings being held across the state in December. Here's the schedule:

Dec. 2 — Central Region, 6:30 p.m., Springville, City Civic Center, 110 S. Main St., Springville.

Dec. 3 — Northern Region, 6 p.m., Brigham City Community Center, 24 N. 300 West, Brigham City.

Dec. 9 — Southern Region, 7 p.m., Beaver High School, 195 E. Center St., Beaver.

Dec. 10 — Southeastern Region, 6:30 p.m., John Wesley Powell Museum, 1765 E. Main St., Green River.

Dec. 11 — Northeastern Region, 6:30 p.m., DWR Northeastern Region Office, 318 N. Vernal Ave., Vernal.