Oklahoma is to open a hunt for bear on Thursday in four counties in the southeastern part of the state.

The hunt will be conducted in Latimer, Le Flore, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties. The archery and muzzle-loader hunt will continue until a quota of 20 bears has been reached.

Hunters with permits are obligated to check with the state’s Department of Wildlife Conservation through its Web site or by phone each day before going out to ensure the quota has not yet been met.

The Oklahoma Legislature during its last session approved a measure to make the hunt legal. Gov. Brad Henry signed the bill into law in April.

Residents in the counties where the hunt is to take place have complained that there are too many bears and that they’ve become a nuisance. Bears have reportedly gotten into trash and otherwise bothered people.

A study by Oklahoma State University biologists estimates at least 500 black bears are in Oklahoma.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” said Micah Holmes, a Department of Wildlife Conservation spokesman. “It’s a big deal for us. There has been a lot of interest in it, and it has been a long time coming.”

A license costs $100 for in-state hunters; it’s $500 for nonresidents. The proceeds from the license will go to the agency, which is funded primarily by user fees, Holmes said.

The law forbids hunters from using dogs to chase bears up into trees. Hunters can set out bait if they are on private property, but bears cannot be baited on public land, Holmes said.

Since 1991, the Wildlife Conservation agency has received about 500 calls of bears being a nuisance, Holmes said, about half of which were investigated. In the past four years, seven bears died after being hit by vehicles, Holmes said.

Biologists hope that a hunting season will help them learn more about southeastern Oklahoma’s bear population.

When a bear is killed, a biologist will meet the hunter, help the hunter remove the animal from the woods, and then take a tooth from the animal to determine its age and a hair sample for DNA analysis, Holmes said.

The bears in the mountainous region of southeastern Oklahoma are part of a group that was reintroduced into the Ozark and Ouachita mountains in Arkansas in the late 1950s and 1960s. The bears were from Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada, Holmes said.

Oklahoma will become the 29th state to allow bear hunting when the season opens later this week.