In a move deemed “legalized cruelty” by animal welfare organization Big Wildlife, the California Department of Fish and Game proposed a new set of regulations that would expand the hunting of black bears throughout California.
The proposals, which were presented to the California Fish and Game Commission on February 4 in Sacramento, include (according to a document released by the Fish & Game and obtained by Big Wildlife): an increased cap on the number of bears allowed to be hunted, from 1,700 to 2,500 per annual season, the possibility of no cap whatsoever, the legalization of GPS collars on hunting dogs, and the expansion of bear hunting into areas of the state where it is currently illegal, such as in San Luis Obispo County.
Brian Vincent, communications director for Big Wildlife, finds the use of “hounding” particularly troubling. The process, which involves the fitting of a dog with a GPS collar, allows hunters to release their dogs into the hunting grounds ahead of them, effectively cornering the bear (usually up a tree) and then relaying the whereabouts via the GPS collar. “How is that even sport?” Vincent asks. “It gives the bears no escape. There is no challenge [for the hunter].”
The process proves equally dangerous for the hunting dogs. According to Vincent, the suggested use of GPS collars is “supposedly a safety measure for dogs” as it would allow their owner to find them in the event that the dogs were attacked, yet he questions the reasoning behind the suggestion. “Why are you then allowing dogs to be put in those situations? It is glorified animal fighting,” Vincent said.
The proposals also ignore the issue of hunting for sport versus hunting for necessity, Vincent said. “To kill a bear simply for a trophy seems so cruel and unnecessary.” Explaining that, during bear hunting season, most bears are trying to conserve energy in preparation for winter, chasing them to exhaustion is hardly fair. Female bears, Vincent added, are also often killed in front of their cubs, thus leaving the cubs stranded and ill-equipped to deal with the winter conditions.
Also unmentioned in the proposals, according to Vincent, is the bears’ ecological value. Calling them the “great recyclers of the forests,” Vincent maintains that to kill bears is to put other flora and fauna at risk, as “they carry nutrients around the forest.”
Although the current bear hunt quota remains at 1,700 per annual hunting season, Fish & Game data reveals that more than 2,000 bears are killed each year. Vincent expects the figure would be even higher should “piggy-back poaching” be factored in. With the increasing demand — and increasing moneymaking potential — for bear parts, which are viewed as medicinal wonders and gastrointestinal delicacies in Asia, bear poaching is already out of control, according to Vincent. Thus, he claims, the increased legality of bear hunting would serve as further cover for poachers, especially given the shortage of game wardens (approximately 200 for over 100 million acres of land) due to the state’s budget crisis. “It would be the wild west of hunting,” Vincent said.
Not exactly, maintains game warden Patrick Foy. Although he thinks an increased bear hunt quota would be “yet another challenge for wardens,” Foy does not understand the controversy. “I don’t know why there is so much opposition,” he said. Elaborating, Foy said that what many people fail to understand is the danger of “bear-human interaction,” a common and dangerous occurrence most frequent in the Northern California communities of Lake Tahoe and Mammoth, and the Los Angeles County community of Monrovia.
Equally puzzled by the uproar is Doug Updike, an environmental program manager for Fish & Game. Defending the proposals, Updike said that bears have been hunted “since prehistoric times,” not to mention the fact that “the bear population has increased fourfold since the 1980s.”
Unswayed by the defense, Big Wildlife has plans to defeat the proposals, and plans to challenge them should they go into effect. Speaking on behalf of the organization, Vincent said, “We want to see bear hunting completely banned.”
The Fish & Game is accepting public input on the proposals until March 13. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (916) 653-4899.