By Chris Wright, The News On 6
TULSA, OK -- For the first time in Oklahoma history, it may be open season on black bears this fall.
This week, The Wildlife Commission approved the state's first black bear hunting season.
Southern Oklahoma lawmakers have been pushing for it, but not everyone is excited about taking aim at the bear population.
A professional bear impersonator disguises himself as Byron T. Bear. He prefers to remain anonymous.
Byron and his handler, Curtis Newsom, visit fairs and schools to educate people about black bears. It's all an act, but the duo is serious about the possibility of their ranks being thinned in Oklahoma.
"We're not against hunting," Newsom said. "We just want a fair shake at it. Don't go out there and just massacre them all."
Southern lawmakers say the bears have migrated west from Arkansas and are a nuisance to rural residents and campers.
Two bills that would allow black bear hunting licenses are awaiting approval from legislators.
If that happens, the Wildlife Commission will open a season Oct. 1 in four southern Counties and allow 20 bears to be killed.
"In this case, we decided that the biology suggested we could have a hunting season and in no way hurt the population," said Nels Rodefeld with the Oklahoma Wildlife Commission.
According to the commission, losing 20 of them wouldn't mean the end of the Oklahoma Black Bear.
"Probably a total of 700, 800 bears in that hunting area," Rodefeld said. "So 20 out of 800 is a very, very conservative quota."
But Newsom, Byron and others dispute those numbers. The Oklahoma Animal Association says there may be as few as 200 bears in Southern Oklahoma.
Also, there are worries that hunters won't stop even when the quota is reached.
"If they send 1,000 hunters out after 400 bears, I don't see it happening," Newsom said. "I don't think we'll have too many bears left after next year."
The Wildlife Commission says more than two dozen states already allow black bear hunting. But the Oklahoma Animal Association claims the bears in the southern part of the state have not been threatening livestock or intruding on private land.