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Bad news for bears

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A revised plan to open San Luis Obispo County to bear hunters has done little to stop criticism since the California Department of Fish and Game first proposed open season.

Specifically, the department’s draft environmental document, released on Jan. 27, could pave the way to open up a portion of the county to bear hunting, increase the annual statewide “harvest” amount from 1,700 to 2,500 bears, and provide hunters with technological advantages to hunt more efficiently. Fish and Game commissioners ruled on April 21 not to accept a previous environmental negative declaration and called for a more scrutinous environmental review. On Feb. 4, they’re scheduled to review the latest environmental document, which hasn’t alleviated many fears.

 “They’re allowing more bears to be killed, and they’re allowing hunters a more efficient means of killing them,” said Brian Vincent, communications director for Big Wildlife, which is asking for a statewide ban on bear hunting. “So this is very bad news for bears in California.”

The new rules would open a portion of eastern SLO County to hunters. Other changes would allow hunters to use dogs here and further permit hunters to place GPS devices on dogs that trigger when a dog has treed a bear—in other words, trapped it in a tree to be more easily shot.

Despite a new environmental document, the newest draft still largely claims there will be no substantial environmental impacts, mostly because the proposal doesn’t involve construction. Responding to past criticism, state officials created a new estimated population size of black bears and found that in a worst-case scenario. the bear population wouldn’t be significantly affected. About 10 percent of the population could be killed, according to the document.

 “The department stance … is the bear population in San Luis Obispo [County] is robust,” said Marc Kenyon, who coordinates the Department of Fish and Game’s bear programs, among those for other animals. “Both demographically and from a genetic standpoint … there will be no negative impact to the population.”

Kenyon added that growing interest to hunt in currently banned areas helped prompt the new proposal.

For Vincent, “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. These bears don’t have a chance.” ∆

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