What are black bears doing to US corn fields?
The black bear population in the Northeast is exploding.
This is good news for hunters, but farmers worry about black bears’ effect on corn production. Black bears have a nasty habit of entering cornfields at night and ruining up to an acre of corn.
History of Black Bears and Corn in the U.S.
Reports of black bears raiding cornfields date back to the time of early European settlement in the U.S. Initially, settlers took it upon themselves to get rid of problem bears.
Later, states offered bounties on predators, including black bears, leading to the bears’ near total extermination in agricultural areas.
A Change in Thinking Creates the Same Old Problems
As views on the role of predators in the ecosystem changed towards acceptance, protection was provided for black bears. Hunting seasons were closed or drastically restricted and black bear populations began to increase.
These days the black bear population has recovered and even surpassed its original size in many areas. States have offered more liberal bear seasons to respond to the population growth with varying results.
Moving Forward: Living with Black Bears
Farmers have dealt with wildlife crop damage since the onset of agriculture. This loss is sometimes referred to as the “angel’s share.”
The problem with black bears’ effect on corn is that they destroy more than they eat. A feeding black bear will sit in a cornfield and pull down every stalk within reach, eating only a small portion of the damaged crop.
The PA Game Commission and other state wildlife agencies have attempted to help farmers with a trap and relocation program, but as we move into the future, black bear damage to corn will continue to be an annoying fact of life for farmers in bear country.
To minimize black bears’ effect on corn, farmers can take the following steps:
- Maintain mowed-open lanes surrounding cornfields.
- Use electric fencing around fields being targeted by bears.
- Participate in trap and relocation programs.
- Allow access and encourage hunter participation during bear season.
Do you know someone whose cornfields have been damaged by black bears? What is the best way to handle the problem?