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California officials want to increase black bear hunting

April 19, 2010 |  5:59 pm

As outdoor activities in California go, bear hunting is not particularly popular. Officials estimate that, at most, 1% of the state’s population hunts black bears.

Many of the other 99% are appalled that anyone does. “I think most people think of it as an anachronism,” said state Fish and Game Commissioner Michael Sutton, who speculates that the state’s voters may soon ban bear hunting. Bear hunting has come a long way since the 1920s, when ranchers and farmers wiped out the grizzly, leaving its sole California presence on the state flag.

Gone are the days when you could kill a bear anytime, anywhere, any way. So Sutton and his fellow commissioners — hunters all — weren’t surprised when proposals to expand black bear hunting drew protest.

Nearly 70 environmental, community and animal welfare organizations have lined up against the proposals, most notably the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and various chapters of the Sierra Club.

In San Luis Obispo County, the board of supervisors passed a resolution last month opposing expansion of hunting into their area.

“We find the totality of the proposal to be unsporting, unfair, inhumane and reckless,” said Jennifer Fearing, the Humane Society’s Sacramento lobbyist.

But officials at the state Department of Fish and Game say they proposed the changes because California’s black bear population is flourishing and spreading.

On Wednesday the commissioners will vote on whether to allow bear hunting in San Luis Obispo County and to increase the hunting area in Lassen and Modoc counties.

They’ll also decide whether to eliminate a cap on bear kills per season and allow bear hunters to put collars with GPS tracking devices on their hounds.

Black bears long have thrived from Northern California down to Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, according to Doug Updike, the department’s game program manager and a wildlife ecologist.

In the last few decades, he said, Fish and Game biologists have seen more bears in San Luis Obispo, Modoc and Lassen Counties.

The number of bears statewide, meanwhile, has “increased from under 10,000 in the early ’80s to nearly 40,000 now,” he said. “They get hit by cars, we get reports by property owners that they broke into their houses, we get pictures, we know what bear prints look like,” he said.

-- Carla Hall