Sacramento, Calif. – This morning, the California Fish & Game Commission unanimously voted to withdraw its scheduled vote on two proposals to dramatically expand bear hunting throughout the state. One proposal would have permitted bear hunting in San Luis Obispo County for the first time ever. The other proposal would have lifted all numerical limits to bear hunting statewide.
“Thanks to the Commission’s decision not to adopt this controversial proposal, black bears will continue to have the freedom to roam in San Luis Obispo County,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, a nonprofit organization that led efforts to defeat the San Luis Obispo County proposal. “We applaud Fish & Game for stepping back and taking a closer look at this misguided plan.”
Both proposals were met with widespread opposition from a broad coalition of organizations throughout the state. A majority of the County’s Board of Supervisors wrote letters to the Commission opposing the bear hunt, along with several City Council members. More than forty organizations joined in submitting a comment letter, and hundreds of concerned residents wrote and called the Commission urging them not to allow the hunt.
Last week, ForestWatch submitted a detailed, 94-page critique of the bear hunt proposal and the associated Negative Declaration (ND). ForestWatch retained Dr. Rick Hopkins, a professional wildlife biologist with Live Oak Associates, to review the Fish and Game proposal. ForestWatch also retained wildlife attorney Bill Yeates, of the Sacramento firm Kenyon Yeates, to evaluate whether the ND contained sufficient information to comply with our state’s preeminent environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act.
“In light of the lack of information provided by CDFG about the existing black bear population in San Luis Obispo County, I believe that the harvest of up to 50 black bears in San Luis Obispo County may have a significant effect on the environment,” concluded Dr. Hopkins.
The Department of Fish & Game first announced the hunting expansion proposals in February, estimating that as many as 50 bears would be hunted and killed each year in San Luis Obispo County, primarily in the Los Padres National Forest. But the Department did not base its recommendation on a reliable DNA population study that would have estimated the number of black bears in San Luis Obispo County. Instead, it only relied on a “bait station study” that showed where bears were located, not how many. The proposal also failed to evaluate the impact of the hunt on the local black bear population.
At today’s hearing, the Fish & Game Department said that it would spend the next few months gathering additional information in response to issues outlined in the ForestWatch letter and other public testimony. The Department may resubmit both bear hunting proposals to the Commission as part of next year’s re-writing of the state’s mammal hunting regulations, a process that would begin in Fall 2009.
ForestWatch will continue to track this process, demanding the strongest safeguards for black bears in the Los Padres National Forest every step of the way.