Last month, the California Department of Fish & Game announced a formal proposal to allow trophy hunting of black bears in San Luis Obispo County, beginning as soon as this summer. According to the Department, most bear hunting in the county would occur on public land in the Los Padres National Forest. The Department estimates that as many as fifty of the county’s black bears would be hunted and killed each year.
photo by Norbert Rosing, National Geographic
The proposal was announced on February 17, 2009 as part of the Department’s periodic revision of the state’s Mammal Hunting Regulations. The agency simultaneously announced plans to lift limits on the number of bears that can be hunted throughout the state each year. Both proposals will be discussed at the California Fish & Game Commission’s hearing on April 9 in Lodi, California – more than two hundred miles away from San Luis Obispo. The commission will accept public comments on the proposal through April 20 and is scheduled to adopt the proposal in a teleconference on April 21.
Accompanying its announcement, the Department released a brief ten-page analysis concluding that sport hunting of bears will not have a significant effect on the County’s bear populations. However, officials admit that it is unknown how many bears actually occur in San Luis Obispo County, making it difficult to determine exactly what impact the proposal will have.
“Hunting of bears and other large mammals should be based on strong scientific data, not guesswork,” said Jeff Kuyper, Executive Director of Los Padres ForestWatch. “We need to allow bears the freedom to roam in our local backcountry, and make serious decisions like these these only after gathering all of the scientific data needed to make an informed decision.”
Biologists estimate that at least 25,000 black bears roam throughout California. Most of those bears are found in the Sierra Nevada and in northern California. Only 10% of the state’s black bear population is found in southern California.
The number of black bears in San Luis Obispo County is unknown. Black bears have been expanding their range into areas once occupied by grizzly bears. With grizzlies hunted to extinction in California during the early 1900s, black bears have gradually moved into their former habitat along the central coast, working their way northward into San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties.
The proposal to expand hunting into San Luis Obispo County first emerged in 2007 with a request from the sport hunting community. In response, the Department has conducted a two year study involving hanging cans of fish from tree limbs, with monitors visiting the bait sites and recording signs of teeth marks or bear prints. While these studies indicate where bears are located, more detailed studies (such as radio telemetry, DNA analysis of hair or scat, or mark-recapture) were not performed, leaving biologists with no data to estimate the actual number of bears in the county. This bear population data is critical – without it, the Department has no scientific basis to determine if, and at what levels, hunting should occur.