The state Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously Wednesday not to expand bear hunting grounds in California or eliminate the cap on the number of bears that can be killed each season.
The commission decided not to make changes to existing regulations after the Department of Fish and Game, which initially urged the changes, reversed its position Tuesday afternoon because it had been deluged with public comments. Officials said they had not had time to respond to them all. By law, all comments must be answered before changes are made.
The department had proposed allowing bear hunting for the first time in San Luis Obispo County and expanding it in Lassen and Modoc counties. Officials had also recommended getting rid of the annual cap of 1,700 bears killed — reaching that cap automatically ends the season — and letting the season continue until its official close in late December.
Wednesday's decision may not stand, however. The commissioners will revisit the issue in the next few months and could vote again by the end of summer.
"California's black bears won a reprieve today, but they are not out of the woods," said Jennifer Fearing, the Sacramento lobbyist for the Humane Society of the United States, which was part of a coalition of animal welfare groups that criticized the environmental analysis the department used in making a case for the changes.
Fish and Game Commissioner Richard Rogers — a duck hunter — asked department officials Wednesday for more information on the state's bear population and on whether certain hunting methods were humane. He asked for statistics on how often people hunting bears with bows and arrows wound rather than kill the animals. He also said he was concerned about bears being hounded up trees by dogs.
"I have some problems with suggesting we expand the bear hunt at a time when a lot of constituency groups are questioning bear hunting at all," he said after the vote.