NC Wildlife Commission approves regulations
North Carolina fishers and hunters will have more catch-and-release waters to flock to, a longer season to hunt deer and additional areas and means to hunt bear under new changes approved by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to the state's wildlife management, game land and fishing regulations for the 2014-15 season.
The Wildlife Commission held district public hearings on conservation proposals throughout January and an open comment period that ended Feb. 14.
Following a process of reviewing public comments on the proposed changes, the Wildlife Commission voted to adopt all but four of the 40+ regulation changes at its recent business meeting in Raleigh.
The adopted regulations will take effect Aug. 1, 2014.
Among the most significant regulations approved for 2014-15 include the establishment of a bear hunting season in the Piedmont and allowing the aid or use of unprocessed foods for bear hunting on private lands, as long as the bear is not actually consuming the unprocessed foods.
According to Dr. David Cobb, the Wildlife Commission's chief wildlife biologist, the adopted bear hunting proposals will help maintain a healthy bear population in North Carolina. The recommendations were a result of the state's 10-year Black Bear Management Plan, which uses science-based decision making, biologically sound management principles and public input to guide the decision process.
The inaugural 2014-15 bear season for counties in the Piedmont Bear Management Unit (PBMU) will tentatively run between Oct. 18, 2014-Jan. 1, 2015, depending on the county.
As part of the adopted proposal, open bear hunting seasons in the PBMU will be running concurrently with the gun deer seasons in counties included in the Eastern, Central and Northwestern Gun Deer seasons.
Bear hunting seasons that run concurrently with gun deer hunting seasons enable deer hunters to opportunistically take bears, according to the Wildlife Commission. Aligning the two seasons will create the greatest amount of opportunity along the edge of the occupied bear range.
The 2014-15 bear hunting season for counties in the Mountain Bear Management Unit (MBMU), which includes Rutherford, will tentatively run Oct. 13-Nov. 22, 2014 and Dec. 15, 2014-Jan. 1, 2015. The MBMU coverage area includes counties in and west of Surry, Wilkes, Caldwell, Burke and Cleveland.
For counties in the Coastal Bear Management Unit (CBMU), the 2014-15 bear hunting season is tentatively set between Nov. 8, 2014-Jan. 1, 2015, depending on the county.
Final season dates will be published in the Wildlife Commission's "2014-2015 Regulations Digest," available Aug. 1.
Biologists say western North Carolina's bear population is the highest it has been in 100 years, with between 6,500 and 7,5000 bears calling the mountains home in 2012. To stabilize a bear population at "zero growth," studies indicate hunters have to take about 22-27 percent of all bears.
Colleen Olfenbuttel, the Wildlife Commission's black bear biologist, said North Carolina sportsmen have taken about 15-17 percent of bears a year over the past 10 years, which led the Wildlife Commission to determine "we need to increase the harvest a little bit."
During all open days of the bear hunting seasons, hunters will now be able to take bears on private lands with the aid or use of unprocessed foods — such as corn, raw peanuts and apples — but not while the bears are consuming the foods. The use of food baits in hunting on public game lands remains prohibited.
One of the Wildlife Commission's goals of the North Carolina Black Bear Management Plan 2012-2022 is to stabilize the state's bear population, which will not be possible without a significant increase in harvest.
Of course, there are still several bear sanctuaries across the state where bears may not be taken. The closest sanctuaries to Rutherford County are Mt. Mitchell Bear Sanctuary and Pisgah Bear Sanctuary.
State regulations and license requirements still apply on federal lands, and local county-by-county legislation also pertains to hunting, inland fishing and trapping activities in North Carolina.
In Rutherford County it is prohibited by local legislation to hunt, take or kill any wild animal or wild bird on, or across the right-of-way of any public road, as well as to discharge a firearm on, from or across the right-of-way of any public road.
Under the new changes approved to the Wildlife Commission's regulations, hunters in neighboring Polk County will get two extra weeks of gun deer season, aligning with the season in Cleveland and Rutherford counties. The gun deer season will now open on the Monday of Thanksgiving week and close the fifth Saturday after Thanksgiving.
According to Mike Carraway, the Wildlife Commission's western regional wildlife biologist, the deer herds in Polk County are "healthy and growing." Carraway said Polk's deer numbers "might be at their cultural carrying capacity, in terms of what people are willing to tolerate" due to increases in deer-car collisions and crop damage.
"A limited increase in the season and harvest isn't going to hurt anything, as far as the population goes," Carraway said.
Furthermore, the Wildlife Commission also approved a change to the opening day of the Western Deer Archery Season to the Saturday on or nearest to Sept. 10. Carraway said every other archery season in North Carolina currently opens on that Saturday, which will make the archery opener uniform statewide.
The change will also simplify deer seasons and create more opportunity for archery deer hunting during the Western Deer Archery Season, according to the Wildlife Commission.
The tentative deer archery season in western North Carolina will run from Sept. 13-28, 2014 and Oct. 12-Nov. 23, 2014.
Another adopted rule change allows archers to bow hunt on private lands on three extra Sundays during the two western deer seasons. Hunting is still prohibited on Sundays on public game lands, such as those in Pisgah National Forest.
Hunters will also now be allowed to take deer and bears with any type of handgun and ammunition, except body armor-piercing projectiles, therefore maximizing handgun options for hunters.
Included in the approved changes to North Carolina fishing regulations for 2014-15 is a clarification designating private stretches of the North Fork Mills River in Henderson County as public mountain trout waters and further classifying the area as delayed harvest, which is managed as catch-and-release from Oct. 1 through the following first Saturday in June.
In nearby Henderson County, the public mountain trout waters of Big Hungry River have been modified, as have areas of Clear Creek Reservoir in Burke County.
Fisherman will also be able to use spear guns, gigs, traps (up to three) and eel pots (up to two) to take non-game fish for bait or personal consumption in inland fishing waters with an inland fishing license. The fish harvested under this provision cannot be sold.
To view a full text of all original proposed regulations, visit the Wildlife Commission's website, www.ncwildlife.org, and download the public hearings booklet.