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As black bear numbers increase, so do hunts

National Park Service via AP, file

A mother black bear and her cub are seen along Indian Grave Gap Trail near Townsend, Tenn.

Decades after President Theodore Roosevelt triggered a Teddy bear craze, the black bear nearly went extinct.

But as Nashville Public Radio reported, the shy creature has made such a comeback in some areas of the country, officials are debating whether to allow hunting seasons to manage their numbers.  

In Tennessee, there were several hundred black bears in the 1970s; now there are 4,000 to 5,000, including many who have ventured out of the forest and onto people’s properties.

Cute, yes. Cuddly, not so much.

"We are receiving complaints from the public that say they don't want the bears there, that we need to do something to get rid of them," Daryl Ratajczak, the chief of wildlife for Tennessee's agency that oversees hunting, told WPLN News. "And we understand their feelings."

Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland have also been debating how to manage the growing black bear population. Bears do, after all, tug at human heart strings.     

When New Jersey officials decided to launch a fall bear hunt to cull the bear population, animal rights activists appealed to the courts and went toe-to-toe with hunters as they checked in their kills, according to NJ.com.

In New Jersey, more than 260 black bears were hunted on the first day of a controversial, state-sponsored culling.

"I can tell you that 20 years ago, I never saw a bear in the woods. Now, I would say I see them more than I see deer or squirrel," John Noon, 50, told the Star-Ledger. "And when you have 800-pound bears — bigger than Alaskan grizzly bears — roaming around, and you have an overpopulation of large-size bears in residential areas, that needs to be managed."

If New Jersey state biologists determine that there are still many black bears in northwestern New Jersey, they may give a green light to a hunt next year.

Nationwide, 28 states allow bear hunting, according to the Humane Society. Nineteen require a bear hunting license.    

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