There are probably twice as many bears in the center of Georgia as researchers previously thought.
The new number, somewhere between 412 and 458, is based on a new analysis of data collected in a University of Georgia study between 2012 and 2015. That means the ten bears killed in the annual one day Middle Georgia bear season, five females and five males, were more like two percent of the overall population rather than the five percent a similar kill total suggested in 2015.
Annaliese Ashley performed the analysis as a part of her masters thesis. She points out that there are not 200 new bears. The new number comes from new math applied to old data. Also, the number alone isn't enough to gauge the health of the bears in Middle Georgia who could be on a genetic island, separated from bears in North Georgia mountains and in South Georgia swamps.
"I'm not saying its happening," she said, "but when you have a population that doesn't have a lot of fresh blood coming in and out of it, you need to look at just what kind of genetic variation we have from one bear to the other."
A roundup study called a Population Viability Analysis will be delivered to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources in late 2017 and it will contain the missing genetic analysis. DNR biologist Bobby Bond said the analysis will have been what his agency has been waiting for all along.
"That's the big missing piece of the puzzle," Bond said. "That's the ultimate goal of this research."
The final report won't come in time to inform the reassessment of the one day Middle Georgia bear season. That process begins in January of 2017 and won't be reconsidered until 2019. Still, the new numbers are cause for celebration for Bond.
"I took it as good news. It made me happy. I mean that we had more than we originally projected. That's good news for that population. Hopefully the sustainability of that population is not for our generation but generations to come," he said.
Public hearings on the way the Middle Georgia hunt will be run through 2019 will be held in Stockbridge and Cochran in early January.