California Black Bears May Soon Be Off-Limits To Hunters

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Photo by David A. Mitchell/Flickr

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

This reads like an article from The Onion, but sadly, America’s current state of affairs is well beyond satire.

A state senator from San Francisco has proposed new legislation that would ban hunting California black bears. The Bay Area is, after all, a renowned hunting and fishing hub, so it’s no surprise that one of San Francisco’s state senators is on the forefront of such forward-thinking, progressive legislation.

Let’s not forget that all black bears are killed for sport, too. No one hunts them for their sweet, but mild, roasts and burger meat. We just use the bear hunt as an excuse to pull out our illegally-modified AR-15 that shoots 3,000 rounds a minute. After mowing bears down into red mist all day long, us hunters will waltz into town covered in gore, terrorizing the sophisticated citizens who get their meat and food from the grocery store, like responsible folks in the modern world.

Look – I know I laid the sarcasm on thick there, but my depiction of bear hunters is as ridiculous as this proposed legislation from the illustrious state senator Scott Wiener. With ideas like this, he’ll likely be California’s next governor.

The Current State of California Black Bears

Banning the hunting of black bears is a terrible proposal on many fronts. For one thing, black bear populations are on the rise in The Golden State. In 1982, it was estimated that only 15,000 bears lived in the entire state of California. Now, conservative estimates from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) place the black bear population at least at 40,000.

On top of that, bear and human interactions are on the rise, per research from CDFW. Wiener admits that bear-human conflicts are on the rise due to habitat loss in a press release about his legislation, but he conveniently blames wildfires for that loss of habitat, instead of the real problem – unchecked development of land that has, since we settled the West, been inhabited by bears. Of course bear-human conflicts will rise when we build summer chateaus and getaway villas in the middle of high alpine meadows. What else would happen?

Wiener claims – without linking to or providing sources, likely because they don’t exist or the numbers were taken out of context – that 70% of Californians don’t support hunting black bears for sport.

Here’s a newsflash, senator – most hunters aren’t running around in the woods for sport.

When anti-hunters use the phrase “sport hunting” they’re really referring to the supposed wanton bloodlust which propels hunters to slaughter wild animals just for the bragging rights and trophy to mount on the wall.

Unfortunately for the Wiener crowd, that’s just not the mindset of hunters. According to a survey commissioned by Field & Stream and conducted by Responsive Management, 35% of hunters choose to hunt for the meat it provides. 31% hunt primarily for recreational purposes, and only 1% hunt for trophies.

So, senator Wiener, your poll is invalid. Not only have you withheld the poll results from the media and your constituents, but you’ve also carefully worded questions to misconstrue survey responses to paint hunters are ruthless killers. Of course 70% of Californians don’t support the sport killing of black bears. You’d be hard-pressed to find a group of people who don’t have a problem with knowingly killing animals without the intention to harvest as many resources as possible from said animal.

Bear Populations – Habitat Loss Means More Bears?

Another fundamental flaw in Wiener’s legislation is the complete refusal to look at the science on California black bears. If habitat loss were such a problem, why have bear numbers gone up since the 80s?

Bear populations have risen largely due to improved wildlife management practices by CDFW. Since the 80s, CDFW has paid particular attention to the different age classes of bears harvested, as stated on their website:

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“The presence of bears at all ages in the population indicates that there have not been any catastrophic events which precluded production of cubs or the occurrence of major die-offs. Had these kind of events occurred, there would be a noticeable gap or absence of animals representing that age classification.”

If habitat loss were truly threatening black bear populations, we would see a noticeable gap or absence of bears from certain age classes. As it stands, the only bears that CDFW doesn’t see in the yearly checks of all harvested bears in California are cubs. It’s illegal to hunt them, for obvious reasons.

Wiener asserts that, since black bears are facing such catastrophic habitat loss, hunting only further adds to their burden. But the science doesn’t back up Wiener’s claims. It flat-out refutes them.

A Slippery Slope

In a wide-ranging and fantastic interview with the crew over at The Meat Eater, retired CDFW game warden and current legislative director of the California Rifle and Pistol Association Roy Griffith sounded off on Wiener’s proposal.

“Just how ludicrous is the arrogance of a senator from San Francisco County, a county that doesn’t even have bear harvest or any bear depredation issues?” Griffith asked MeatEater.

Not only does San Francisco County not have bear harvest or depredation, but the state representatives from that county have backed recent legislation that banned mountain lion hunting, and just last year ended fur trapping. Bear hunting with hounds has been outlawed since 2013, as has hunting with bait. That’s led many hunters to wonder just how likely it is that they’ll be able to keep hunting other game, like deer or ducks, via stalk-and-spot hunting.

As Sam Lungren wrote in his excellent coverage of this issue, “Hound hunting and baiting bears are both illegal, leaving hunters to wonder how spot-and-stalk or ambushing bears is any different than deer hunting. Griffith said Wiener has previously asserted that most hunters only hunt bears for “trophies,” leaving the meat behind—which is blatantly false.

This reinforces my point from earlier, where I asserted that anti-hunters like Wiener don’t understand the difference between loving the actual sport of hunting, and the bloodlust that fuels a lot of trophy hunting.

If passed, this legislation could prove fatal to big game hunting in California. Worse yet, it’s an outright kick in the face to the American system of wildlife management, which is arguably the world’s best. After all, where else in the world is hunting so easily accessible to so many citizens?

Bear Hunting Magazine editor and Meat Eater crew member Clay Newcomb said it best: “Where human populations and large predator populations overlap, predators will be managed and some will die. It’s a political issue of who gets to be the manager. California banned lion hunting in 1990, but in recent years government officials have killed as many and more lions than hunters did when it was legal.”

You read that last quote correctly. California sells a virtually number of black bear tags each year, but has a statewide quota of 1,700. Hunting season ends when that quota is met, or when the season deadline arrives.

Last year, hunters only filled 919 tags before the season ended in December.

That is the nail in the coffin of Wiener’s legislation. If less than half of the quota of bears is being killed each year, does black bear hunting need to be banned?

Absolutely not.

If you want to make your voice heard on this issue – even if, like me, you don’t live in California – you can sign a petition to let the politicians in California know what a terrible idea Wiener’s legislation really is.


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