For the third spring in a row, the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) is proposing to expand the state’s black bear hunting season. And for the third consecutive year, the department is battling opposition from anti-hunters who are bent on scuttling the proposal, despite concessions made by DFG in its 2011 plan.
In 2009, DFG proposed expanding California’s bear hunt quota in order to better manage the state’s growing black bear population, but it ultimately pulled the proposal in order to gather more public input. With that additional input in hand, DFG came back with a revised bear hunt plan in 2010, but that proposal was also withdrawn after DFG received more than 10,000 comments about the amended regulations—including many from anti-hunters. The department did not have time to address all 10,000 comments in writing, as is required by state law, before the plan could be voted on by the California Fish and Game Commission, so DFG again pulled its proposal.
Now, a new bear hunt plan is on the table for 2011, and just like the previous two, it is being targeted by anti-hunting groups, most notably the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The key element of the 2011 proposal is a 300-bear increase in the yearly quota, from 1,700 bears to 2,000.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS, wrote in a Feb. 3 blog that “arbitrarily” raising the quota is a snub to all citizens who spoke up for bears in 2010.
Which begs the question: What is arbitrary about a plan three years in the making that is based on volumes of scientific research and thousands of public comments?
After all, the available science supports an expanded hunt, and DFG has strived to address public concerns about its previous proposals.
What the research shows is that California’s bear population continues to increase, from an estimated 4,080 bears in 1984 to 40,005 bears in 2009. According to DFG, a hunting quota of 2,000 bears would allow for more hunting opportunities without harming the statewide black bear population, as the department’s population models support a sustainable harvest of 3,100 bears annually.
By expanding the quota, the cash-strapped DFG also stands to save quite a bit of money.
Existing law requires the general bear season to close prior to the season ending date in late December if DFG receives notification that 1,700 bears have been taken. When an early closure is triggered, DFG is required to send a notification letter to every bear hunter in the state. Considering that the harvest cap has been reached just four times in the past eight years, a higher cap would have little to no impact on the overall black bear population, but it would likely eliminate the unnecessary expense of mailing letters to all bear hunters.
The 2,000-bear quota is actually a compromise from DFG’s 2010 proposal, which called for eliminating the cap altogether. The 2010 plan was met with unfounded claims from anti-hunters like Jennifer Fearing, California senior state director for HSUS, who said that doing away with the quota could increase the bear harvest by as much as 50 percent. In truth, DFG biologists said that an uncapped season would likely result in a harvest of no more than 2,150 bears—only a 20 percent increase over the current 1,700-bear limit.
Other major concessions in the 2011 plan include eliminating a proposal that would have permitted hunters to equip bear-tracking dogs with GPS-enabled collars—a device that would have allowed hunters to track their hounds but was labeled by HSUS as “unsportsmanlike”—and dropping a proposal to open San Luis Obispo County to bear hunting.
State wildlife officials had wanted to allow black bear hunting in San Luis Obispo County for the first time and expand bear hunting in Lassen and Modoc counties. According to DFG research, San Luis Obispo’s bear population stands at approximately 1,100 animals and is biologically large enough to sustain a hunt. The expansion was opposed by HSUS, however, and San Luis Obispo County supervisors passed a resolution of their own last March opposing bear hunting in their county.
There is one new element in the 2011 plan, however: a proposed fall archery bear season. This proposal would open the archery bear season at the same time as the archery deer season in the portions of the state where the two seasons overlap. This action, according to DFG, is intended to help reduce confusion about the method of take that is allowed while hunting either bear or deer.
Based on method of take reports compiled by DFG, this new archery season is expected to result in the additional annual harvest of just 10-20 bears, statewide, while helping to reduce hunter confusion and providing extra hunting opportunities.
The possibility of a new archery bear season and an expanded quota are great news for hunters. However, there is no denying that the plan DFG unveiled this year is certainly different than the previous two drafts.
The question is why.
Has anything changed between 2010 and 2011 that would lead DFG biologists to believe that doing away with the bear hunt quota completely is a danger to the population’s ultimate sustainability? Are GPS devices on hounds any less sporting this year than last? Is San Luis Obispo County’s bear population any less capable of sustaining a hunt?
If the answer to all those questions is “No,” and that would certainly appear to be the case, then why are they missing? It looks like a plan that’s been whittled down to address the concerns of anti-hunters. Not that those changes have done DFG much good—HSUS opposes this plan, too. Indeed, Pacelle has said that “a renewed revolt for California’s bears may be necessary to avert this latest proposal.”
But if anti-hunting influence is indeed the reason why parts of the previous plans have been put to the side, then hunters should be concerned. Wildlife management should be based on science, not emotion. If DFG biologists believed the statewide quota was no longer necessary last year, and if they believed a bear hunt was necessary in San Luis Obispo County, then both should have been included in the 2011 plan. The plan is essentially a recommendation from the department, after all, and that plan should reflect what DFG truly believes is in the best interest of California’s black bears.
No matter what DFG proposes in terms of expanded bear hunting, HSUS is going to oppose it. Considering that HSUS would like nothing better than to see all hunting stopped, and taking into account that animal rights activists don’t contribute a dime towards wildlife management, their voice should carry zero weight in wildlife management decisions.
That’s not saying the plan DFG has proposed isn’t a good one. NRA supports this plan and believes it is a giant step in the right direction. But when the California Fish and Game Commission ultimately decides whether or not to expand black bear hunting later this spring, that process should be based strictly on science and the recommendations of state biologists, not the threats and idiom of a group with an avowed anti-hunting agenda.
Hunters, as the chief stewards of this country’s wildlife, should obviously have a say, too. The public comment period on DFG’s latest black bear plan is currently open, and hunters are urged to voice support for expanded black bear hunting in California. All comments must be received by the department no later than 5 p.m. (PDT) on March 21, 2011. Comments can be submitted by e-mail to WILDLIFEMGT@dfg.ca.gov. Written comments can be sent to:
California Department of Fish and Game
1812 Ninth Street
Sacramento, CA 95811
Click here for a full copy of the 2011 Black Bear Hunting Draft Environmental Document (PDF).
For additional information:
California Tables Plans to Expand Black Bear Hunt
California DFG Corrects HSUS’s Misstatements