Last year, hundreds of local residents opposed a state proposal for what would have been the first-ever hunting season for black bear in San Luis Obispo County. Now, the California Department of Fish and Game is proposing a similar hunt with the same fatal flaws. It is again time for all county residents to loudly speak out against this scientifically unsound proposal.
Opposition to last year’s proposal was overwhelming. More than 500 concerned citizens wrote letters expressing their opposition. A majority of County Supervisors expressed concerns, joined by several members of the city council. Local newspapers published editorials, opinion pieces, and letters to the editor, all outraged that the closest public hearing on this issue was being held at a location more than six hours distant.
The most troubling aspect of the original plan was the Department had no idea how many bears exist in San Luis Obispo County. State biologists never conducted a bear census here to understand the local bear population. Because of the overwhelming opposition, the Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to table the proposal.
The plan this year
In February, Fish and Game released its latest bear-hunting plan for San Luis Obispo County. In the plan, state officials estimate the county supports a population of 1,026 bears. With very few bear sightings and even fewer bear-human interactions, this number appeared—at first glance—to be grossly inflated. As we evaluated the proposal in detail, we uncovered an astonishing error.
The Department’s proposal contains a table titled “San Luis Obispo Population Estimation” showing a combined 4,918 square miles of “high,” “medium,” and “low” bear habitat combined in the County. The Department used this number to estimate the total number of bears in the County.
The problem with this number is that, according to the U.S. Census bureau, San Luis Obispo County spans only 3,304 square miles, not the 4,918 square miles claimed by the department. By overestimating the size of the county by nearly 50 percent, Fish and Game has grossly inflated the amount of bear habitat in the county and thus, the number of bears.
The Department also based its estimate on “anecdotal evidence,” bait stations (cans of fish hanging from trees), and a few motion-sensor cameras.
This “back of the envelope” arithmetic is shocking from an agency responsible for managing our state’s wildlife. Not only is it wildly inaccurate, but it also doesn’t satisfy the fundamental requirement for any scientifically sound wildlife management proposal: an accurate population survey. Such a survey would give biologists a much better idea of how many bears exist in our area. For example, DNA analysis of hair or scat can distinguish one bear from another, providing precisely the data needed for a reliable population estimate. Oklahoma recently completed a DNA study of its bears. And if Oklahoma can do it, then California certainly can, too.
Because of such mistakes one of the state’s top wildlife biologists, Rick Hopkins, is urging the Fish and Game Commission to reject the proposal and its “error-riddled analysis.”
Supervisors speak out
To add insult to injury, Fish and Game continues to refuse to hold a local hearing. Last year, the commission held three hearings on the matter in Sacramento, Woodland, and Lodi, all more than six hours from SLO. Such a long drive prevented most residents from attending the hearing to learn more about the proposal and express their opinions in person. This year, unfortunately, is no different. The commission has scheduled three hearings: one in Sacramento, one in Ontario, and one in Monterey.
The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors recently issued a resolution opposing the black-bear hunting proposal. The Board’s opposition was based, in large part, on Fish and Game’s continued refusal to hold a local hearing. We applaud Supervisor Gibson for introducing the resolution, and Supervisors Mecham, Patterson, and Hill for supporting it.
How to help
We must all voice our concerns loud and clear to Fish and Game about any expansion of bear hunting into San Luis Obispo County. Demand accurate population studies of our county’s bears before any hunt is authorized. And request a public hearing on the issue in San Luis Obispo County. Comments can be expressed by attending the April 8 hearing in Monterey and by letters and e-mail to the California Fish and Game Commission. To be most effective, letters must be received by the commission no later than April 11. Send comments to the California Fish and Game Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1416 Ninth Street, Room 1320, Sacramento, CA 95814. If public opposition to the proposal is great enough, we can continue to give bears the freedom to roam in San Luis Obispo County.
Jeff Kuyper is Executive Director of Los Padres ForestWatch, a nonprofit organization working to protect wildlife and wild places in the Los Padres National Forest. Visit their website at LPFW.org. Send comments via the editor at email@example.com.