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Animal rights advocates want to ban black bear hunting in California

Advocates say one key issue with the state's hunting policies is the lack of a good census on black bears.

HUMBOLDT COUNTY, Calif. — The animal rights group known as The Humane Society of the United States recently filed a petition with California's Fish and Game Commission in an attempt to stop the practice of hunting black bears.

A spokesperson for the state commission told ABC10 they received the petition last month and will be considering its requests during their February meeting.

"In this case, the proposal is essentially a moratorium on bear hunting until the management plan is released," said Melissa Miller-Henson, executive director of the commission. "If that plan were released prior to the commission meeting, it would make the petition moot.

Officials of The Humane Society of the United States say they're reacting to the recently-released annual Black Bear Take report for 2020, authored by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which can be viewed below.

The report shows the population of black bears in state hunting areas at between 10,000 and 22,000 black bears — meanwhile 2014 estimates from the department show the population sat at about 28,000 and 41,000 before the start of that year's season.

Data released in the 2020 Fish and Wildlife report also show the number of black bears reported killed every year peaked at 2,029 in 2008. The 2021 state hunting season closed with 1,207 black bears killed.

"We're just asking the agency to take a pause on bear hunting until we can get a good population count," Wendy Keefover of the Humane Society of the United States told ABC10.

Keefover , leader of the organization's Wildlife Department in Native Carnivore Protection, said one key issue with the state's hunting policies is the lack of a good census on black bears.

"The way they measure the population is through the number of bears that hunters killed and reported, and they model what they think the live population looks like," she said. "But that's just a completely erroneous way to do it.  You can't... know what the live population looks like from dead bears."

Fish and Wildlife maintains the black bear population continues growing past 30,000 to 40,000 bears statewide, as reported in the LA Times, and 30,387 bear hunting tags were sold for the 2020 bear season — a revenue increase of $136,890 from 2019.

The Fish and Game Commission states that those who purchase the $52.66 residential hunting license must report their bear killings to the commission, stating on its website the bear skull must be presented to CDFW within 10 days.

Keefover acknowledged the road to banning black bear hunting will be difficult, following a previous attempt by State Senator Scott Wiener in 2021 that failed after backlash from hunters.

But she said she is undeterred.

"The trendline of bear hunters is going up. Even with all these extra hunters in the field, we're still seeing less and less bears killed — so they might have already killed them," Keefover said. "We don't have good data. That's the problem.

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