Editor's Note: Bill Karr of The Western Outdoor News (WON) was the first to report on a growing influence of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) on the California Department of Fish and Game. Today, we share Karr's report on California DFG's proposed "new approach" to bear management which will appear in the February 17, issue of Western Outdoor News. The report is in no way intended to criticize the work of California's Game Wardens, only as information on the potential administrative influence of HSUS on Cal DFG.
DFG Again Turns Away From Hunters, Tries "New Approach" to Bear Management
SACRAMENTO-The Department of Fish and Game has announced a "new approach" to handling problem bears, one that basically turns its back on sound science-and hunters--and plays into the hands of animal-rights, anti-hunting activists once again.
According to a story in the Sacramento Bee on January 22 by Matt Weiser, DFG biologist Marc Kenyon said: "We've stepped back and said, 'We're going to draft a management plan with the people of California in mind - hunters and nonhunters alike,' " Kenyon said. "We're not going into it with a preconceived notion of what our bear hunt will be like."
Of course, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which led opposition to expanded hunting quotas for bears proposed by the DFG, was in the forefront of the DFG's decision. And proud of it:
"We're generally encouraged that they're updating the plan," said Jennifer Fearing, the Humane Society's California director. "There's an opportunity now to find common ground."
The "Common ground" she refers to, of course, is with anti-hunting, animal-rights groups like HSUS, not with the general public at large, which supports legal hunting as allowed by law and the consensus of scientists and biologists by a huge margin. So much for the DFG's statements that HSUS has no undue influence on their internal decisions.
Of course, we might have seen the writing on the wall when DFG Deputy Director Jordan Traverso of the office of Communications, Education and Outreach, told this reporter in an interview on Aug. 27, 2010 that "The core mission of the department isn't what it was when DFG was created," Traverso said. "We do the best we can in providing vital information to our traditional constituencies, hunters and anglers, but the truth is, in the more than 140 years that DFG has been around, our constituencies have grown. They now also include animal rights groups, other law enforcement agencies, business and industry, farmers, boaters, local governments, essentially all Californians."
According to the story in the Bee, "The department is preparing a new statewide bear management plan, one that will approach the species less as a hunting opportunity and more as a wildlife conundrum of statewide importance." Note, "less as a hunting opportunity". That's despite the fact that hunting is the best, proven and most acceptable solution.
Therein lies the problem. The DFG has always managed wildlife species through science and sound biological data. Now, they're trying to introduce "feel good" policies into the department simply to appease radical groups like HSUS.
Currently, the "DFG Statewide black bear policy 2071" has three categories:
Category 1 - ("No Harm- No Foul bear") A non-habituated bear has strayed into a populated area and does not return to bear habitat. The bear may be hazed with non-lethal projectiles or chased with dogs. Tranquilizing and removing the bear is okay.
Category 2 - (Habituated bear) A bear has become habituated to humans and may be a nuisance problem (no property damage involved) by tipping over garbage cans, invading compost piles, walking across porches, etc. Bears that have been previously captured and removed, but return to areas of human habitation are included in this category. Habituated bears are not candidates for moving and shall either be humanely euthanized or placed with a permitted animal care facility upon failure of the corrective measures.
Category 3 - (Depredation bear) A bear has caused real property damage to dwellings, structures, vehicles, apiaries, other man-made objects. If the situation worsens or damage is considered substantial in the opinion of the responder, corrective measures shall be made prior to, or in addition to, issuing a depredation permit pursuant to Fish and Game Code Section 4181. In cases where a bear has caused extensive and/or chronic damage to private property, such as injured or killed livestock, entered into an unoccupied home or cabin, or repeated damage where corrective or bear-proofing efforts have failed, the Department shall issue a depredation permit, if the property owner requests one.
This policy gives bears the chance to "learn their lesson", but if they don't, they're eliminated. Simple and it works. Now, apparently, they want to change those categories, although no details were forthcoming from the DFG.
The California black bear population has gone from an estimated 10,000-15,000 animals in 1982 to 30,000 statewide currently, double the number, and they continue on an upward trend. Resultant bear problems are from an increased number of bears, not from "urbanization" of their habitat, as the animal-rights activists like to contend. The Tahoe Basin hasn't seen any dramatic increase in building, and yet the problems continue to escalate.
Hunters are allowed to kill 1700 bears each season in California, and after an attempt by the DFG to increase the quota to 2,000, HSUS and other anti-hunting groups complained, and the DFG backed down. Now, the DFG is apparently standing with the anti's, instead of their own constituents, the hunters.
The department now plans to develop more exact regional population estimates and assess how each region is affected by hunting pressure and natural death. Kenyon said the management plan could take two or three years to finish, and the intent is to find an alternative to killing problem bears-right up the animal-rights activists alley.
Led by Jason Holley, a regional Fish and Game biologist the study intends to find out if nuisance bears can be taught new habits. We already know that habituated bears do not learn new lessons, much the same as with "old dogs don't learn new tricks".
Now, part of the plan is fine. It begins with "first time" bears that wander into habited areas. Those bears are then trapped, collared with a GPS tracking device-a new idea-and released into a wild area on the edge of the community. Then, the bears are chased by dogs and shot at with rubber projectiles, telling them they're unwelcome. This is logical, but it's already part of the DFGs plan. Where's the change?
So here we go: The Department of Fish and Game has spent $7,000 per bear so far under the $175,000 study to use tracking collars to see if an experiment will work, releasing 25 bears so far, and only 7 with tracking collars! They hope to collar another 15 bears this year.
Truly and honestly, this writer has no problem whatsoever with finding alternatives to killing problem bears, but we hate to see DFG funds, that are already hard to come by, spent on pilot programs that have already been tried for decades, with the same end result. Habituated bears go back to old habits, and need to be put down.
And seeing the Department of the Fish and Game once again bowing to the desires of radical animal-rights, anti-hunting groups, one small portion of the society that is not embraced by the majority, simply angers and disgusts me. We also wonder where the $175,000 for the pilot program came from. HSUS, maybe? We're trying to find out.
Bill Karr is the northern California editor of Western Outdoor News (www.wonews.com).