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California Wrong to Propose Bear Hunt Expansion

Today, in the sharpest of ironies, the California Fish and Game Department will propose to increase the state’s black bear hunting quota from 1,700 to 2,000 bears, on the very day that California marks the 100th anniversary of the state’s adoption of the Bear Flag, which features a grizzly bear and commemorates the “Bear Flag Revolt” of 1846.

Californians wiped out the grizzly in 1922, but things are different now. State Fish and Game Commissioner Michael Sutton acknowledged as much when a similar proposal surfaced last year, noting that “most people think of it [bear hunting] as an anachronism.”

Sutton’s right. They do. And that’s why more than 70 organizations, including The HSUS, opposed the Department’s proposal last year to expand the territory for black bear hunting, authorize high-tech hounding devices, and increase the number of bears killed. In the face of more than 10,000 comments from the public, the Department pulled back and testified at last September’s Fish and Game Commission meeting that the 2011 proposal would not include elements that one member of the Commission charged made them look like “bloodthirsty beasts.” But here we are, less than a year later, wondering why this Department seems so resolute about taking a step backward in time.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California wildlife watchers, those heading into the woods to hike, look and take pictures, outnumber hunters in the state more than 20 to one. That’s the fourth-widest gap for any state in the country. So it should raise an eyebrow for you when the agency responsible for wildlife management says it is responding solely to the wishes of the 1 percent of Californians who hunt — and only a fraction of the state’s hunters take off after bears.

In a better world, California hunters would recognize the importance of balancing the interests of all outdoor users. Many hunters do understand the wider risk to the future of hunting posed by the forcing through of proposals that lack public support. In this instance, they might get more bears to hunt in the short term, but the 99 percent of individuals who don’t hunt in California might come away with a dimmer view of hunting as a result.

Striking a healthy balance in decision-making networks could strengthen prospects for overcoming unsporting provocations like captive hunts. Right now, hunters across the country are working with HSUS supporters to fight proposals to raise wild animals in pens and shoot them in canned hunts, and to put an end to abusive practices like fox and coyote pens. Hunters are also working with other wildlife stakeholders to stop legislative mandates to target predators solely for the benefit of trophy hunters who don’t like the competition as they go after deer and elk.

The HSUS has long argued for a more democratic structure within wildlife management policy. And last year Gov. Schwarzenegger signed into law Assemblymember Jared Huffman’s AB 2376, calling on the agency “to develop a strategic vision for reform of the Department of Fish and Game and the Fish and Game Commission, with help of a blue ribbon task force and stakeholder advisory group to enable the state to better meet its public trust responsibilities for fish and wildlife, and to address 21st Century challenges to wildlife stewardship.” We have asked to participate on this task force.

And we will be in the audience at the commission meeting today to question the Department's judgment in advancing this misguided new bear hunt proposal. There is no one clamoring for an expanded quota, and to raise it arbitrarily against such strong expressions of public will is an inexplicable snub to the citizens who spoke up for bears in 2010.

Stay tuned, for a renewed revolt for California’s bears may be necessary to avert this latest proposal.


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