On April 21, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to postpone action on proposed changes to the state’s black bear hunting regulations until next year. The changes, requested by the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), included removing the statewide harvest quota for black bears and holding a bear hunt in San Luis Obispo County for the first time.
Despite being confident in the biology behind those proposals, the DFG pulled the changes before asking the commission to take a final vote on them.
“DFG pulled the requested changes for season quotas and expansion of the bear hunt to include San Luis Obispo County for the first time because we wanted to get more public input and make sure all sides of the issues were well vetted,” said Harry Morse, public information officer for the California Department of Fish and Game, via email.
Predictably, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) issued a news release proclaiming victory over that decision, but in its glee HSUS made some misleading statements about the proposed changes to California’s bear season.
It its release, HSUS stated, “Proposed regulations would have allowed the trophy hunting of bears in San Luis Obispo County, where it is currently prohibited, and also would have allowed an unlimited number of bears to be killed in the state, in excess of the current statewide limits.”
While the DFG did propose to do away with the 1,700-bear quota, saying that an “unlimited” number of bears would have been killed is deceptive. Had that proposal passed, hunters would still have had to abide by established season dates, and the season bag limit would have remained at one bear per hunter.
“We recommended the dropping of the 1,700 cap limit on bear harvest because bear populations have expanded, and we normally reach the 1,700 limit late in the season, just prior to the end date,” Morse said.
Megan Sewell, deputy manager of the Wildlife Abuse Campaign at HSUS, goes on in the news release to say that “these proposals were reckless and could have jeopardized the health and stability of California’s black bears.”
Again, the DFG says that’s not true.
“Sewell’s comment on jeopardizing the health and stability of California’s black bears is not accurate,” said Morse. “A consistent and managed harvest of black bears in California over the past decade has not caused a decrease in bear numbers. The opposite is true.”
Overall, California’s bear population has increased from approximately 10,000 bears in the 1980s to more than 30,000 bears today. That increase is a major reason why the 1,700-bear quota is no longer necessary. Cost is another factor. According to the California Hunting Digest, when the quota is reached, “the DFG is required to send a notification letter to each bear tag holder. This has occurred only twice in the past six years. The DFG has proposed to the Fish and Game Commission that the in-season closure quota be eliminated because it provides no significant benefit to the bear population. As a result, the cost of notifying all hunters by mail is an unnecessary expense.”
Much like the rest of the state, bait station surveys have indicated that San Luis Obispo County is home to a growing bear population, which is why DFG sought a hunting season there. According to the DFG, the results of those surveys support the conclusion that bear numbers and densities are adequate in San Luis Obispo County to allow bear hunting without adversely affecting the county’s bear population. In fact, in its public notice about the hunt, DFG said it expected hunters to take 20-50 bears in the county—a harvest that represents 0.0015 percent of California’s total bear population.
Further, the DFG said that it would like to see the verifiable, biologically peer-reviewed research behind HSUS’s claim that, “Research reveals that as the number of bears killed by hunters increases, the number of conflicts with bears increases accordingly.”
“Our experience is that as bear populations expand into the urban interface, conflicts arise independent of hunting seasons,” Morse said. “Problems in California arise when communities and municipalities do not regulate garbage availability to bears and people feed them. Hunting is completely independent of the majority of problems we face with bears and human conflicts and interactions.”
Finally, HSUS characterized California’s bear hunt as a “trophy hunt” not once but seven times in its news release. Said Morse, “I do not know how the author of the press release came up with the word ‘trophy hunts.’ We do not have trophy hunts for bears. We have general season hunts under which all hunters must follow all regulations.”
While the California Fish and Game Commission postponed taking a vote on doing away with the bear quota and allowing a bear hunt in San Luis Obispo County this year, the DFG has said it will reinstate its request for those changes next year.
“The commission usually says we want to make sure we have full disclosure, we want to make sure we have a full range of input from all interested sources,” Morse said. “So that’s what we’re trying to do. And it’s long term. There’s no secrets here. We’re going to go back with our management proposal in a year, and then the commission will rule on it.”
And, despite what HSUS is saying, that proposal will once again be based on the best available science—not to mention the truth about black bear hunting in California.