In February, the California Department of Fish & Game formally announced its second attempt to allow trophy hunting of black bears in San Luis Obispo County. The proposal – similar to one defeated by ForestWatch last year – would target as many as fifty black bears each year, primarily in the Los Padres National Forest.
The changes are being made as part of a large package of amendments to the state’s mammal hunting regulations. The Fish & Game Commission will accept public testimony on the amendments at its April 8 hearing in Monterey, and is slated to approve the changes during a teleconference on April 21. The Commission will accept comments on the proposed changes through April 10.
A similar proposal was soundly defeated last year because Fish & Game failed to provide any population estimates for bears in San Luis Obispo County. Instead, the agency only conducted a cursory study by hanging cans of fish from tree limbs, occasionally 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.
Having accurate bear population data is critical – without it, the Department has no scientific basis to determine if, and at what levels, hunting should occur. Because this information was missing, ForestWatch last year hired one of the state’s leading bear biologist, and one of the state’s premier wildlife attorneys, to submit a 94-page letter critiquing the hunting proposal. Based on that letter, the Fish and Game Commission voted last year to table the proposal.
New Proposal, Same Flaws
This year, Fish & Game has essentially released the same proposal, seeking once again to establish the first-ever bear hunting season in San Luis Obispo County.
Responding to ForestWatch complaints that last year’s proposal was not based on an accurate population study, this year Fish & Game officials estimated that 1,067 black bears are found in San Luis Obispo County. That estimate is based on Table 2.5 in the agency’s Draft Environmental Document, which divides the county up into “high,” “medium,” and “low” quality bear habitat. Adding these numbers together, the table indicates that there is a combined 4,918 square miles of bear habitat in the County. The agency used this figure to then estimate how many bears total are in the County.
The problem with this number is that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, San Luis Obispo County spans only 3,304 square miles of land, not 4,918. By overestimating the size of the County by nearly 50%, Fish & Game has grossly inflated the amount of bear habitat in the County, and thus, the number of bears.
The Department also based its estimate on “anecdotal evidence,” bait stations (cans of fish hanging from trees), and a few motion-sensor cameras.
“Our County’s black bears deserve much more than this back-of-the-envelope arithmetic,” said Jeff Kuyper, ForestWatch executive director. “It doesn’t satisfy the fundamental requirement for any scientifically-sound wildlife management proposal – an accurate population survey.”
Fish & Game decided against using more accurate population indicators that are used by wildlife management agencies in other states. For example, DNA analysis of hair or scat can distinguish one bear from another, providing precisely the data needed for a reliable population estimate. Oklahoma recently completed a DNA study of its bears.
Because of errors like these, Dr. Rick Hopkins – one of the state’s top wildlife biologists – is recommending that the Fish & Game Commission reject the proposal and its “error-riddled analysis.” ForestWatch teamed up with two national organizations – Big Wildife and the Humane Society of the United States – to retain Dr. Hopkins and attorney Bill Yeates, submitting a detailed critique of the proposal. Our letter was submitted to Fish & Game on March 15.
Supervisors Speak Out
To add insult to injury, Fish & Game will not be holding a local hearing on this issue. Last year, the Commission held three hearings on this matter in Sacramento, Woodland, and Lodi, all more than six hours from SLO. Such a long drive prevented most residents from attending the hearing to learn more about the proposal and express their opinions in person.
This year, unfortunately, is no different. The Commission has scheduled three hearings on this matter – one in Sacramento, one in Ontario, and one in Monterey.
Last month, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors issued a resolution opposing the black bear hunting proposal. The Board’s opposition was based, in large part, on Fish & Game’s continued refusal to hold a local hearing. ForestWatch recognizes Supervisor Gibson for introducing the resolution, and Supervisors Mecham, Patterson, and Hill for supporting it.
Help Protect Our Region’s Black Bears
We all need to voice our concerns loud and clear about any expansion of bear hunting into San Luis Obispo County. Please take a few moments today to tell the Department that you want accurate population studies of our County’s bears before a hunt is authorized. And request a public hearing on this issue in San Luis Obispo County.
You can submit your comments in two ways:
1. Attend the April 8 hearing in Monterey.
2. Write a letter to the California Fish & Game Commission. To be most effective, your letter must be received by the Commission no later than April 10. Send your comments to the California Fish & Game Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1416 Ninth Street, Room 1320, Sacramento, CA 95814.