Smith: Wisconsin DNR to issue 10% fewer black bear licenses in 2024

The Department of Natural Resources will issue 11,500 black bear hunting licenses in 2024, a 10% drop from last year. The change is linked to concerns about a drop in the state's bear population.

Paul A. Smith
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
A black bear walks through new forest growth.

Due to concerns over a decline in the state's black bear population, the Department of Natural Resources will issue 10% fewer bear hunting licenses this year in Wisconsin.

The agency will offer 11,500 bear licenses, down from 12,760 last year. It also has decreased the bear kill quota to 3,850, down from 4,575.

The Natural Resources Board on Wednesday unanimously approved the DNR's recommendations.

The changes come on the heels of a 2023 bear hunting season that saw 3,005 bears registered, a year-over-year drop of 27% and the lowest Wisconsin bear harvest since 2008.

Eric Lobner, DNR director of wildlife, said there were several indicators of a decreasing bear population, including fewer nuisance bears being trapped and relocated. In 2023, U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services personnel trapped and relocated 261 bears in Wisconsin due mostly to complaints from agricultural producers, down from 580 in 2022.

In another indicator of bear numbers, 53% of bear hunters statewide saw a bear while hunting in Wisconsin in 2023, down from 65% in both 2021 and 2022, according to a DNR postseason survey. 

The percentage fell in all zones. In Zone A, the area with the most bear observations, 82% of hunters saw a bear while hunting, down from 88% in 2022 and 86% in 2021.

The reduction in bear kills and bear sightings also resulted in lower hunter satisfaction, according to the survey. This season 26% of Wisconsin bear hunters rated the quality of the season fairly high or very high compared to 34% in 2021.

The Department of Natural Resources manages black bears in six zones across Wisconsin.

Wildlife biologists and managers assign each of the state's six bear management zones an objective of increase, decrease or maintain the bear population.

The goals are based on bear nuisance complaints, agricultural damage, hunter satisfaction, hunter crowding/conflict, hunter success rates and data on bear health, according to the DNR.

The 2024 objective in Zones A, B, C and E is maintain, while D is decrease and F, which has the fewest bears and least amount of bear habitat, is "allow local control."

By zone, the NRB approved for following quota and number of licenses for 2024: Zone A, 1,075 and 1,730; B, 850 and 1,515; C, 600 and 3,000; D, 1,100 and 3,005; E, 175 and 1,750; and F, 50 and 500.

The year-over-year quotas and licenses were held level in four zones but decreased in D and E.

The Wisconsin Conservation Congress Bear Committee agreed with the DNR-recommended 2024 quotas and license levels in zones C, D, E and F but asked for higher levels in A and B, said WCC chairman Rob Bohmann.

After discussion the board voted to approve the DNR recommendations unchanged.

Wisconsin has about 24,000 bears statewide, according to the DNR.

Interest in bear hunting continues to increase in Wisconsin, according to license sales data. In 2023 a record 137,649 applications were received for a harvest license (31,901 applicants) or a preference point (105,748).

The minimum number of preference points needed to draw a license in 2023 for each zone were 9 points in Zone A, 11 in B, 2 in C, and 1 in D, E and F.

Lobner said the DNR would consider splitting Zone A, which has a disparity in habitat and bear numbers, likely in coming years as part of an update to the bear management plan.

Bald Eagle Watching Days

The Ferry Bluff Eagle Council will hold its annual Bald Eagle Watching Days on Feb. 10 in Sauk Prairie.

The event includes programs and educational sessions from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the River Arts Center, 105 Ninth St, Prairie du Sac and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Tripp Museum, 565 Water Street, Prairie du Sac, as well as outdoor eagle viewing at the overlook along the Wisconsin River at 490 Water Street in Prairie du Sac.

Events are free but tickets, available at River Arts Center, are required.

The annual event had been scheduled for Jan. 13 but postponed due to poor weather.

For more information, visit