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Teeth Submitted Help Steer Management

Sink Your Teeth Into Vermont's Bear Population Model

Harvest decisions rely a lot on population estimates, and good estimates for bear rely on the teeth hunters submit.

You’ve seen the numbers on Vermont’s bear population, and you’ve probably wondered how Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department biologists get them. The answer may surprise you. Our statistical model is powered by the tooth samples that hunters are required to submit when they harvest a bear.

How does the statistical model work? It’s basically a math equation that uses ages of harvested bears to estimate the population size. We get those ages by examining yearly growth rings—just like those on a tree’s stump—on bear teeth. We send teeth to a lab for aging and feed those ages into the model. Statistical models thrive on two things: 1. Consistency and 2. Samples that are good representatives of the population. That is why there is a mandatory requirement to submit teeth, so that we can consistently get as close as possible to 100% coverage every year.

So, when you submit your bear tooth, you are directly contributing to our department’s ability to assess the number of bears in Vermont. We have been using the same tooth-based statistical model since 1972, only adding minor changes to keep it current with statistical advances.

Beginning in 1968, the collection of age ratio, sex ratio, and productivity data provided a basis on which to make scientific population estimates. Between 1968 and 1975, it was conservatively estimated that the bear population ranged from a high of 1,500 to a low of 1,200. (from THE VERMONT BLACK BEAR by Vermont bear project leader Charles Willey, 1976).

We know the bear population has been stable through the 2000’s, with estimates exceeding 5,000 bears in most of the last 10–15 years. The 2021 estimate of 5,254–6,558 bears is once again in the upper end of our 2020–2030 Big Game Management Plan objective of 3,500–5,500 bears.

Today, more people and more bears are sharing our landscape. Bear conflicts have also increased in the last decade—especially in parts of Vermont where bears used to be uncommon. The high number of bears also provides people with one of our tastiest big game animals. The bear hunters, in turn, keep our Vermont’s bear population stable.

A black bear looking at the viewer from the woods.