Laura Conlee is right: A proposal by the Missouri Department of Conservation to allow the first modern bear hunting season in Missouri will evoke strong feelings on both sides.
"They are a charismatic species, and they generate a lot of emotions in folks," she told the Globe.
A scroll through comments after we posted a story about the proposed season on our Facebook page hints at the the depth of passion on both sides.
Let's acknowledge a couple of truths before going forward in this debate:
• Hunting is a time-honored American tradition, deeply entrenched in our culture. It is also a tool used to manage wildlife populations that, frankly, require human management if we are to co-exist. Many states have a season on black bears yet also maintain stable populations, including Arkansas, which has allowed hunting for 40 years and still has a population of 5,000 statewide.
• But bear hunting is different in the eyes of many. Deer and turkey hunting primarily put meat on the table for Missourians, but bear hunting for many will be less about food and more about the trophy, the thrill of having stalked and killed a large carnivore. Hunting animals for food is weighed differently than hunting game for sport, and people who might be comfortable with the former can be unsettled by the latter.
"Just no reason to," wrote one critic on Facebook after the Globe posted its story.
"Why do you feel the need to kill an animal after it has finally made it back to its habitat?" wrote another, referring to the fact that black bears were nearly wiped out in Missouri and that it has taken decades for them to make a comeback. In fact, Conlee told us, at one point, state wildlife officials believed bears were extirpated from Missouri.
"In any healthy wildlife setting, you have to keep your predators in check. This includes bears, mountain lions and coyotes. As long as it’s regulated and done properly, this is a good thing," wrote one hunter.
"If there's a sustainable population ... I'm in," was another reply.
Conlee, the furbearer biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, believes that's the case in Missouri, with between 540 and 840 black bears statewide, mostly in the Ozarks.
"At this stage of the game, the population can sustain a harvest," she told us, adding any hunt will be "limited and highly regulated."
Whatever your view, now is the time to weigh in. To its credit, MDC is diligent about getting public input before it goes forward and has opened a public comment period that runs through June 5. Comments can be made online at mdc.mo.gov. The agency also will take public comments through June 5. Besides online comments, written comments can be mailed to the Missouri Department of Conservation, attention Michele Baumer, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102.
If there's support, it will go to the MDC’s Regulations Committee in July, could move forward to the commission for consideration in early September and could become a reality in October 2021.
Whatever your values, whatever your passion, weigh in. Be heard. That's the way the system works. That's the only way the system works.