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Stakeholder Input Groups

Dutchess-Putnam Black Bear SIG - March 2009

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) convened a stakeholder input group (SIG) for black bear impact management in Dutchess and Putnam counties in March 2009. The SIG met twice to discuss black bear related impacts and the extent of their importance to stakeholders in Dutchess and Putnam counties. Participants reflected the following stakes in black bear management: environmental stewardship, wildlife rehabilitator, organized sportsmen, landowner hobby farmer, naturalist, crop farmer, bee keeper, residents/homeowners with bears in the yard, outdoor writer, police, State Park management, Land Trust management.

The group identified and ranked the following impacts as the highest priority for bear management in the region:

  1. Agricultural Impacts
  2. Awareness/appreciation/understanding of bears and natural world
  3. Habituation - bear behavior, bears lack of fear
  4. Eco-tourism
  5. Land-use changes

The group further translated these impacts into fundamental objectives ( i.e., guidance statements that convey ultimate goals or desired end states to be achieved through management decisions and actions).

  1. Reduce economic costs of crop/product loss to producers.
  2. All members of the public have at least a rudimentary understanding of bears. (Realistic perceptions of risk.)
  3. Maintain natural behaviors of bears in the wild. Reduce bear human interactions that create safety risks to people.
  4. Maintain sufficient quality and quantity of bear habitat to support a viable population of bears in Region 3.

Potential actions suggested to achieve the fundamental objectives included: working with farmers to identify thresholds of damage and viable deterrents; provision of diverse forms of public education and outreach about bears, bear management, coexisting with bears, and techniques to reduce human-bear conflicts; provision of bear-proof trash receptacles; increase data collection about black bears in the area; and establish a hunting season.

East of the Hudson Black Bear SIG - May 2006

DEC convened a stakeholder input group (SIG) for black bear impact management in April 2006 for a three county area east of the Hudson River. The counties included Washington, Rensselaer, and Columbia. Obtaining stakeholder input is an important part of DEC's framework for black bear management. This SIG intended to "... help DEC staff articulate area-specific management objectives (based on identified impacts) and related plans of action". This location was selected because of increasing bear-related issues and local concern and interest in the black bear resource.

The SIG included twelve members reflecting diverse stakes in black bear management that convened for one daylong and one evening meeting. Staff from Cornell University's Human Dimensions Research Unit (HDRU) and DEC supported the SIG by facilitating group interaction and providing subject matter expertise. The groups were temporary, ad hoc entities. Facilitators asked the group to clarify bear-related impacts, identify priorities for impact management, and suggest actions to manage key impacts. This input is summarized below.

1. Long Term Viability of Black Bear Populations

The group felt this could be accomplished by informing and educating local land use planners about the importance of maintaining adequate habitat, and by providing technical information and education about how to incorporate black bear habitat considerations into local land use planning and decision making.

2. Increased Education and Outreach

The group had a strong desire to see an increase in the level of knowledge in the general public that will allow them to have realistic perceptions about black bears. This could be accomplished through increased educational effort by DEC with the use of TV, radio and newspaper spots, distribution of pamphlets and educational programs in public venues, such as schools and environmental centers.

3. Minimize Damage to Commercial Property

There was concern by the group of the possibility of increased damage to apiaries, field corn and other commercial/agricultural properties. Damages could be reduced by increasing education of farmers about recognizing and preventing bear damage, and making available the tools necessary to reduce damage. This includes the use of licensed houndsmen.

Management Implications

Education was considered an important management tool by the East of the Hudson SIG. Educating land use planners in local government about the value and importance of maintaining habitats can ensure the continued presence of black bears in this region. Also, educating the public about "bear awareness" can prevent negative interactions, such as bird feeder damage or garbage can raids from occurring. Informing farmers of the tools available to mitigate agricultural damage can reduce the cost and impact of that damage.

Broome and Tioga County Black Bear SIG - Spring 2005

The Region 7 Wildlife Office convened a stakeholder input group (SIG) for the region's southern counties, Broome and Tioga, in the spring of 2005. A SIG was convened for this area because bears, while a fairly recent colonizer of this part of the state, now occur in numbers enough to be a growing interest or concern for some residents of the area. Through this process DEC would gain a better understanding of current issues of concern and preferred means to address them.
The SIG was comprised of seventeen people representing diverse perspectives or stakes in the black bear resource. The group conducted their work during three evening sessions. Staff from Cornell University's Human Dimensions Research Unit (HDRU) and DEC supported the SIG by facilitating group interaction and providing subject matter expertise. The group was asked to identify and prioritize bear-related impacts and recommend actions to manage these key impacts.

Priority Impacts

The group recognized and accepted that bears were now a resident animal in the area and generally believed that current numbers didn't demand action to control or reduce bear numbers. The SIG also recognized that bears were causing some concerns and named the following as priority impacts;

  1. Anxiety, perception of risk.
  2. Damage to commercial property.
  3. Potential negative effects on other wildlife.

Program Goals

The program outcomes desired by the SIG could be summarized as follows;

  1. A viable bear population, with;
    1. minimal negative economic impact on commercial or residential property, and
    2. minimal negative impact on other wildlife.
  2. A well informed public, such that;
    1. fear or anxiety about bears is minimized,
    2. people act appropriately if they encounter a bear,
    3. people don't create attractions to bear on their properties,
    4. people know how to prevent problems and know how to respond if one occurs, and
    5. people understand enough about bears to offer informed input on future management decisionsnbsp

Management Implications

The SIG stressed the importance of education efforts to bolster the prospects of bears and residents of the area being able to co-exist with minimal problems. DEC will continue efforts to inform the public and local government agencies of bear natural history and behavior and appropriate human behaviors when living in bear country.

Upper Catskill, Lower Catskill, and Allegany Black Bear SIGs - December 2003

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) convened stakeholder input groups (SIG) for black bear impact management in 2003. Obtaining stakeholder input is an important part of DEC's framework for black bear management. SIGs formed in the upper Catskills, lower Catskills, and western New York were intended to "... help DEC staff articulate area-specific management objectives (based on identified impacts) and related plans of action" (Framework, p. 17). These 3 locations were selected in 2003 because of increasingly prominent bear-related issues and staff availability to support the SIG process. Each SIG included about a dozen members reflecting diverse stakes in black bear management that convened for 3-4 meetings. Staff from Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), Cornell University's Human Dimensions Research Unit (HDRU), and DEC supported each SIG by facilitating group interaction and providing subject matter expertise. The groups were temporary, ad hoc entities. In a series of 3-4 meetings, process facilitators asked each area-specific input group to clarify bear-related impacts, identify priorities for impact management, and suggest actions to manage key impacts. This input is summarized below.

Ecological Impacts

Participants in all three locations placed importance on maintaining the long-term population viability of black bears. Participants stated that management actions should not jeopardize the population viability of black bear. They believed that DEC's current management program adequately maintains population viability and that the program should continue to do so in the future.

Economic Impacts

Concerns around residential property damage were greater among participants in the lower Catskills and western New York groups. Participants in the upper Catskills group were more concerned about the economic costs of agricultural damage, including both crop (corn) and apiary damage. They also were concerned about the potential economic loss to camps, hotels and other businesses that could result from lost tourism should a bear-related human injury occur in their region. In western New York, the economic costs of apiary damage were a priority concern, while crop damage was viewed as a concern for a range of wildlife species, but not as a priority impact for bear management.

Human Health and Safety Impacts

All three groups placed low priority on the impact "actual number and severity of human injuries" because participants recognized that human injuries from bears are rare. In later discussion of management actions, however, it became clear that the fundamental objective of maintaining human safety was a high priority in all locations.

Psychological Impacts

In both the upper and lower Catskills, some participants expressed a desire to increase opportunities to obtain hunting-related benefits (e.g., hunting satisfactions). Some participants in all groups valued the psychological benefits associated with viewing bear. Members of all three groups expressed a desire to reduce negative psychological effects associated with human-bear problems in residential, commercial, or camping situations.

Management Actions

In all locations, participants viewed education as a high priority management action for addressing several objectives, including maintaining safety and reducing bear-related problems. Participants emphasizing education reasoned that bear-related problems can often be prevented by changes in human behavior that minimize the availability of bear attractants. Participants suggested a variety of educational strategies targeted at various audiences (general public, homeowners, hotel operators and camp managers, tourists, beekeepers, etc.). They suggested selecting actions that would leverage resources, for example, by focusing educational efforts on training first-responder personnel and others in contact with the general public who could aid in delivering public education. Responding more quickly to problem bear situations with aversive conditioning and increasing business owners' ability to employ such techniques themselves also was viewed as a priority strategy for reducing bear-related problems in non-agricultural, commercial situations in the upper Catskills.

In the upper and lower Catskills groups, participants suggested changes in hunting to increase the harvest of bears. These included, among others, expanding the areas open to hunting (upper Catskills) and extending the length of the regular season by opening it earlier, concurrent with opening day of deer season. These actions were viewed as a means to increase hunter satisfaction, reduce the economic costs of crop and apiary damage (upper Catskills), and reduce the negative psychological effects and economic costs of residential property damage (lower Catskills). In the upper Catskills, however, expanding the areas open to hunting could increase concern that hunting affects non-hunters' ability to enjoy other recreational activities, such as hiking. In western New York, some participants suggested opening new areas to hunting and extending the length of the hunting season to reduce apiary damage. Other participants suggested that hunting regulations in western New York remain the same because opportunities to see bear are uncommon in many areas of the region.

The SIG participants in all 3 locations shared a concern that placed substantial importance on having a wildlife agency with the knowledge and expertise to conduct black bear management. Recognizing DEC's current inability to hire additional staff, each group emphasized the need to devote additional resources to black bear management, especially for research and education. For example, participants in the upper Catskills and western New York specifically included "dedicating a DEC staff person to ongoing bear-related education" and "creating a budget line for education," respectively, among their suggested management actions. Participants viewed allocating resources, or finding creative ways to partner with others in the absence of those resources, as essential to accomplishing the objectives they identified as priorities in their regions. Some participants expressed concern that budget constraints and other logistic considerations would limit the ability of the agency to implement actions suggested through the SIG process in a timely manner.

Tania Schusler, Cornell Cooperative Extension and
Bill Siemer, Human Dimensions Research Unit, Cornell University