In another victory for our region’s wildlife, the California Fish & Game Commission this morning indefinitely postponed a proposal to allow a first-ever bear hunting season in San Luis Obispo County. State officials cited their inability to respond to widespread opposition as the reason for scrapping the proposal for the second time in two years.
“We applaud Fish & Game for taking a time-out to consider many of the serious scientific and legal concerns identified during the public comment process,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch. “Not only was the Department unable to respond to the overwhelming amount of public opposition to its proposal, but the agency’s environmental document was scientifically and legally deficient. It’s a great day for our County’s bears.”
In a memo to the Commission, John McCamman, the Director of the California Department of Fish and Game, acknowledged that the agency was unable to respond to all of the scientific and legal issues that were received during the public comment period. “The Department recommends at this time that the Commission make no change to the existing bear hunting regulations,” the memo concluded.
In addition, Deputy Director Sonke Mastrup stated that new information received during last month’s public comment was significant enough to require a re-write and re-circulation of the environmental document — and another public comment period — prior to Commission approval.
Mathematical Errors Plague Proposal
A similar proposal was soundly defeated last year because Fish & Game failed to provide any population estimates for bears in San Luis Obispo County. This year, the Department estimated that 1,067 black bears occur in San Luis Obispo County, but based that estimate on the assumption that the County contained 4,918 square miles of bear habitat. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, San Luis Obispo County spans only 3,304 square miles, suggesting that the Department grossly exaggerated the amount of bear habitat in the County and thus, the number of bears here.
Because of errors like these, Dr. Rick Hopkins – one of the state’s top wildlife biologists – recommended in a letter last month that the Fish & Game Commission reject the proposal and its “error-riddled analysis.” Dr. Hopkins, along with wildlife attorney Bill Yeates, submitted a detailed scientific and legal critique of the proposal to Fish & Game on March 15.
The proposal, announced in February, would have allowed the first-ever bear hunting season in San Luis Obispo County. The regulatory package would have also expanded bear hunting into Lassen and Modoc counties in northern California; allowed hunters to use high-tech tracking devices that would pinpoint the location where their hounds had cornered a bear up a tree; and would have lifted all numerical limits to black bear hunting statewide. Currently, the bear season closes when the Department receives notification that 1,700 bears have been killed.
The Department received more than 10,000 comments on the proposed changes and the accompanying draft environmental document. Most of the comments opposed the changes and criticized the scientific and legal inadequacies of the environmental review. Under state law, the Department must respond to these comments and finalize the environmental document prior to adopting any changes to the state’s hunting regulations. The comment period closed on March 15, 2010, more than a month before this morning’s hearing.
“We hope this will provide Fish & Game with an opportunity to rethink its proposal to allow bear hunting in San Luis Obispo County,” said Kuyper. Based on current information provided by state biologists, such a hunt would not be sustainable and is not in the best interests of the County’s wildlife.”
In addition, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors last month passed a resolution opposing bear hunting in the County. And earlier this week, 19 state lawmakers sent a letter to the Department opposing the changes as well.
The Commission today voted to revisit the bear hunting changes at its May 5 meeting.
“We will continue to track any future attempts to allow bear hunting in San Luis Obispo County, and Fish & Game will continue to face overwhelming public opposition if they fail to give our county’s bears the protection they deserve,” said Kuyper.