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California State Officials Report Black Bear Population in Decline

Latest DFG data reveals 25 percent reduction in just two years

bear cubs sunset


The Humane Society of the United States is concerned to learn of a sharp drop in the estimated population of California black bears.

In the new “2011 California Bear Take Report” issued Oct. 1 by the California Department of Fish and Game, the population of black bears was 5,000 fewer than the department estimated for 2010 and nearly 10,000 fewer since 2009—a combined reduction of approximately 25 percent of the population in just the past two years.

“California’s Department of Fish and Game has been telling the public for years that our bear population has increased significantly—even tripled—but these latest data suggest otherwise,” said Jennifer Fearing, California senior state director for The HSUS. “If the state’s estimates are to be believed, Californians should be alarmed at the loss of a quarter of our bears in just two years. Bears in California are under pressure from poaching, habitat loss, road mortality, pollution, and recreational hunting including harassment practices like the use of hounds, which will be prohibited come January 1.”

Every year DFG issues a “take report” that provides data collected from bear hunters during the previous hunting season. The report for the 2011 season was issued four weeks into the 2012 hunting season, during which 360 bears have been already killed. The report estimates that California’s black bear population is now approximately 26,390 (plus or minus 6,889), down from an estimated 31,432 (plus or minus 7,991) last year and approximately 36,000 (confidence unknown) the previous year. During these two seasons, DFG reports legal take of 3,248 bears—explaining less than a third of the overall estimated reduction.

Bear sightings and kill quotas

The department report should put to rest scattered anecdotal sightings of bears that led some observers to believe that California has been in the midst of a black bear population boom. According to HSUS scientists, increased sighting of bears, like those reported in mountain communities like Lake Tahoe and suburban places like Glendale and Arcadia, can be a danger sign not of more bears, but that bears in general are having a difficult time finding food in their usual habitat range. Such sightings can also be the result of human development moving into wildlife habitat and attracting bears to new food resources like those available in garbage cans and dumpsters.

The DFG report issued Oct. 1 also reveals that one of the state’s four “thresholds of concern” for black bears was exceeded because more than 40 percent of the bears killed last year were females. DFG is still waiting on results from tooth analyses to determine if the median age of the bears killed last year meet their concern threshold. If the median age of females is less than four years of age or there is a statistically significant reduction in the median age of both sexes, a quota reduction proposal would be triggered.

Bears and hound hunting

DFG’s report also noted that bear hunting tag sales were down 13 percent and that 47 percent  (825) of bears killed during the 2011 black bear season were taken with the assistance of hounds. Only four percent of bears taken were killed with the assistance of guides.

Given the numerous threats facing California’s bears, The HSUS is especially grateful to California for prohibiting the use of packs of dogs to chase and kill bears, which becomes effective January 2013 and will relieve some of the pressure on the bear population.

Media Contact: Kaitlin Sanderson: 301-721-6463; ksanderson@humanesociety.org

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