FRANKFORT—Black bears and Asian carp came to Kentucky years ago uninvited. Now that they are apparently here to stay, state Fish and Wildlife officials are working hard to control their numbers.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources Commissioner Greg Johnson told the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Environment yesterday that Asian carp is widespread in West Kentucky and along the Ohio River while most black bears are still found in Eastern and Southeastern Kentucky. Efforts are underway to control both species, said Johnson, who first tackled questions about the carp issue.
“Asian carp is something that Kentucky and this committee needs to take very, very seriously,” said Johnson. The invasive species is now up to the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville, in the Ohio’s tributaries, and above and below the dams at Land Between the Lakes, alarming biologists and encouraging private enterprise to enter the fray. Today west Kentucky-based fish processing facilities are turning millions of pounds of the nuisance fish into dog food, hot dogs, fish nuggets and other edibles, helping to reduce the state’s carp population, Johnson told the committee.
“That’s (process) is probably the best way to go as far as trying to control Asian carp,” he told the committee.
Bears are a different story—and their presence can be more unsettling than carp to the average Kentuckian. Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, said recent sightings of black bears in Hardin County have caused concern among farmers and other residents alike.
“I’ve even heard of some of these bears being tracked back and forth across the Ohio River,” he said.
Johnson said young black bears, usually males, will wander in late spring and early summer then return later in the year to their old territory. It’s his agency’s job to track the bears and make sure they leave areas where they aren’t supposed to be, Johnson explained. He said increased hunting will probably be used to control future bear populations.
“You’ll probably see us come forward in the next year or two with another regulation change to expand the number of bears we take in Kentucky,” he said.
Kentucky held its first state regulated bear hunt in 2009 in three counties for two days, according to Deputy Fish and Wildlife Resources Commissioner Dr. Karen Waldrop. The hunt was expanded to 16 counties for 17 days last year. New regulations, as Johnson said, would expand it further.
“We’re looking at where’s the best habitat for bears and we want to try to keep them similar to what we did with the elk—we don’t want them expanding out to the central and western part of the state,” said Waldrop.
Rep. Hubert Collins, D-Wittensville, said he has heard about increased numbers of bears getting into garbage cans and walking near homes in Johnson County where he lives. He asked Johnson and Waldrop why.
“Is there not enough for the bears to eat in that area, or what do you think’s happening?” Collins asked.
The reason, Waldrop explained, is that bears are opportunistic eaters. “Bears… they will go for an easy meal, unfortunately,” she said. “So if they find an area … where they can get into garbage cans very easily they might do that.” A lack of wild berries—a popular bear food—in unpopulated or scantly populated areas may also drive bears into town in search of other food, she said.
Waldrop said there are steps Kentuckians should take to avoid encounters with bears: don’t leave dog or cat food outside in the open, secure garbage in bear-proof containers, and take other measures recommended by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Waldrop said. The agency has even launched a “bear aware” campaign to teach people what to do, and what not to do, where bears are concerned, she said.
“There are a lot of different things folks can do. When you live with bears for a while, people start making those changes,” she said.