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Animal welfare: California's black bears dodge another bullet

May 5, 2011 |  4:48 pm

Black Bear The California Fish and Game Commission decided at its meeting Thursday in Ontario not to increase the quota of bears that can be hunted in the state each year. Currently, hunters are allowed to kill 1,700 bears. State  Department of Fish and Game officials had contended the bear population was robust enough to sustain a quota of 2,000 each annual hunting season, which lasts roughly from October through December.

An editorial in The Times on Saturday had urged the commissioners not to increase the hunting quota without first getting a better sense of regional bear populations within the state. The commissioners, who set policy for the Department of Fish and Game, also directed its officials to move toward managing bears regionally.

Bear hunting is not a popular sport, and the commissioners -- appointed by the governor to steward the wilderness for both hunters and non-hunters alike -- know that.

"We are being asked to do something today that more than 99% of Californians don't like and don't want, and that is to increase the bear hunting quota," Commissioner Michael Sutton said later. "The science says yes we could increase the bear hunt. In addition to paying attention to the science, we need to be mindful of the politics… We weigh the science, we weigh the various stakeholders and we weigh the opinions of the majority of Californians."

Technically this issue could be revisited and voted on at the commission's meeting next month. Department of Fish and Game officials asked for more time to present more detailed environmental documents on the quota issue. Could the commissioners increase the quota then? Possibly. But  "the political winds are blowing in the other direction -- leaving it where it is," said Sutton.

This is the third year in a row that the issue of raising the bear quota has come before the commission, prompting outcries from animal welfare advocates.

"My sincere hope is that this is three strikes and it's done," said Jennifer Fearing, the California state director of the Humane Society of the U.S., which led the opposition this year once again.  "All we're saying is leave it alone," she said of the bear hunt quota, noting that a poll commissioned by her organization found substantial numbers against increasing it. "We're reflecting the overwhelming sentiment of Californians."

Update: A previous version of this post said the California Fish and Game Commission met Wednesday, May 4. They met the following day.

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Bull's-eye on bears

--Carla Hall

Photo: Black bear roams through a neighborhood in Monrovia. Credit: Rudy Libra

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