After a years-long scientific study, biologists believe they have a more accurate number for the population of black bears in SLO County.
A recent report commissioned by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated the number of black bears in SLO County at just 101, far fewer than previous estimates.
The study, conducted by biologists from UC Davis and the University of Wyoming, used special baited stations to attract bears and collect samples of their hair. The hair was then sent to labs for DNA analysis. The study argued that the method could be used on a statewide level and result in a more accurate estimate of bear populations, which is traditionally gathered based on the number of bears killed by hunters or those found dead of other causes.
“It is important for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to have a current and thorough understanding of population demographics, abundance, and density in order to scientifically inform black bear management,” the report stated.
The study was conducted between 2013 and 2015, and the resulting population estimate was for fewer than a 2009 estimate by the department, which put the population of black bears in the county at about 1,067.
The results of the study were welcome news for Los Padres ForestWatch, a nonprofit group focused on conservation in the Los Padres National Forest, where many of SLO County’s black bears reside. The group has long opposed efforts to allow black bear hunting in the county.
“The study confirms what wildlife advocates have said all along—the county’s black bear population is too small to support a sustainable hunt,” Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, said in a written statement issued shortly after the report’s release.
In 2009, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife proposed a plan to expand bear hunting across the state, including in SLO County. The proposal would have allowed hunters to kill up to 50 bears each year, but it was later withdrawn.
The study did not specifically state whether the department should allow black bear hunting in the county, noting that the animals were a “valuable resource” both to hunters and to “wildlife viewers.” The study noted that the statewide black bear population grew steadily in the last 20 years and stressed that accurate counts were critical to management of the species, particularly as contact between the bears and humans increase.
“The combination of black bear population and range expansion with human growth and urban development has brought bears and humans closer than ever before, creating an increased potential for human and wildlife conflicts,” the report stated.