Hunters registered 4,400 black bears in Wisconsin during the 2012 black bear season, the second highest number of bears harvested on record, according to state wildlife officials.

A Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources statement said the state record for bears was set in 2010 when hunters registered 5,133 bears. Hunters registered 4,257 bears in 2011.

According to the DNR website, a 2008 survey showed between 26,000 and 40,000 bears alive throughout the state.

Kevin Wallenfang, a DNR big game ecologist, said in a statement Wisconsin is known nationwide for its abundant bear population that lives in forests in northern and central Wisconsin. The statement also said the range of bears is increasing.

“In recent years, bears have become more common throughout the state including many central and southern counties. We had a bear reported as far south as Green County this year, and we’re hearing of more bears living year-round in many central counties,” he said.

Wallenfang said the number of permits for the 2013 hunt has not been determined and they are looking for information from the 2011 and 2012 hunts to determine a number of bears to harvest, which they will present to the Natural Resources Board in January.

According to Wallenfang, the DNR, with the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association and others, has been conducting research to better estimate the bear population in the state.

He said a similar study in 2008 showed more bears than the DNR expected in the state, leading to an increase in the number of bears hunters could harvest.

“We are likely now to the point where we will need to consider backing off on permit levels in some areas this year,” Wallenfang said.

Al Lobner, president of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, said his organization has played a role this year in helping create a new estimate of the black bear population in Wisconsin. He said when the DNR conducted the last survey, his organization had recommended the DNR pursue a model using tetracycline study.

Lobner said in the spring, volunteers built bait boxes that contained pastries laced with tetracycline, a biomarker which resides in the bear’s bones. They placed four boxes in each township within the bear range in the state.

The bait boxes are designed so only bears can find them and not deer or other game animals, according to Lobner. Volunteers and the DNR kept track of the number of baits that bears trigger.

According to the DNR website, after killing a bear, hunters submit a rib to the DNR which analyzes it for the tetracycline. The DNR can then compare the number of baits the bears took with the bear population on large to estimate the bear population.

Based on the marking procedure, the DNR can better estimate the bear population, Lobner said. He said the study has been conducted for a long time in other states.

Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, a member of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, said it would be preliminary to judge the success of the harvest before the DNR issues a new report on the bear population.

He said this report will help tell the state what levels it should set the harvest for next year.

“Once we get the study, we can see where we want to set the harvest levels next year to make sure we’re managing the bear population in a responsible way,” Hulsey said.