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Commission rejects changes to bear-hunting rules

April 21, 2010 |  1:51 pm

The state Commission on Fish and Game voted unanimously Wednesday morning not to expand bear hunting grounds in California or eliminate caps on the number of bears that can be killed each season. The commission decided not to make any changes to existing regulations after the Department of Fish and Game, which initially urged the changes, reversed its position Tuesday afternoon because it had been deluged with public comments.

The department had proposed allowing bear hunting for the first time in San Luis Obispo County and expanding it in Lassen and Modoc counties. Officials also recommended getting rid of the annual cap of 1,700 bears killed -- which now automatically ends the season -- and letting the season continue until its official closing day in late December.

Fish and Game officials said the department changed its stance because it is obligated by law to respond to all public comments and critiques before any changes are made. Staff members were unable to answer all the comments received before the scheduled vote Wednesday morning, they said.

Wednesday's decision may not stand, however. The commission asked Fish and Game to present the proposed changes again at its May 5 meeting. This will require another public hearing and the same rules about public comment will have to be followed. But new regulations could still be passed before the end of the year.

"California's black bears won a reprieve today, but they are not out of the woods," said Jennifer Fearing, the Sacramento lobbyist for the Humane Society of the United States, part of a coalition of animal welfare groups that sent a 19-page letter to Fish and Game questioning the department's bear demographics and environmental analysis of expanding the hunt.

Still Fearing and other opponents of the change were pleased by Wednesday's vote. "We applaud Fish and Game for taking time out to consider many of the serious scientific and legal concerns identified during the public comment process," said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch.

Doug Updike, the department's game program manager, said last week that the bear population was robust enough to withstand the changes in hunting rules. He said that he would not expect more than 2,000 bears to be killed annually if the cap were eliminated and the hunting grounds expanded. Updike said the bear population was robust enough to support a kill of 3,100 -- "and we've never gotten close to that."

-- Carla Hall

Photo: A California  black  bear along Taylor Creek near South Lake Tahoe, Calif. The California  Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday delayed a plan to expand bear hunting in the state. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press