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California Bear Harvest Hits Alarmingly Low Levels

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The state of California has one of the most vibrant populations of black bears of any state in the union.

Current statistic numbers indicate that the state serves as a home to around 33,000 black bears. While that number doesn’t seem incredibly high – especially given California’s sizable area of over 163,000 square miles – it’s also growing, and according to recent reports, the state has lost the most powerful form of black bear population control that they had at their disposal: hunting.

That’s right, hunting numbers for black bears have been on the decline over the past few years, and apparently hit their lowest point in over 20 years during the 2013 season, with only about 1,000 bears harvested from the wilderness. The 2013 figure itself is a sizable decline – 48 percent, to be exact – from what the harvest numbers were a year ago. In 2012, hunters killed about 1,962 black bears. In previous years, the numbers were much more sizable.

It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that declining harvest numbers, combined with ever burgeoning population figures, mean that black bears are becoming more and more numerous in California.

Unless something is done to reinvigorate the state’s black bear hunting industry, the bears will likely start making their presence known, whether by causing auto accidents, wreaking havoc on crops or other personal property, or even attacking humans directly. It’s not common, but it’s not unheard of either.
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Unfortunately, a political move to increase black bear hunting in California doesn’t seem overly likely at this point, especially since politics has really been one of the prime causes of the problem in the first place. In 2012, the state issued a ban on the use of hunting dogs and hounds for the pursuit of black bears. As a direct result of that new law, fewer hunters pursued – or were successful in pursuing – black bears during the 2012-hunting season. The effects, unfortunately, are still being felt. Quite simply, a lot of hunters either aren’t able to successfully hunt black bears without their dogs, or at very least, they aren’t interested in trying.

Many hunters are worried, however, that the declining harvest numbers will spell trouble for California hunting in general over the next few years. In 2012, when the state opted to ban dogs from black bear hunting, the proponents of the law argued that the use of hounds – with their sharp noses and innate knack for tracking – gave hunters an “unsportsmanlike” advantage over the bears. Such an argument makes it seem as if California’s lawmakers are against the concept of hunting altogether, and believe that hunters are killing game animals in an unfair and inhumane manner. If that’s the case, then the ban on using hounds during black bear hunts could be just the beginning of a legal crusade to further regulate hunting, and potentially, to eradicate it entirely.
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What could reverse the seemingly frivolous “no hounds” rule for California black bear hunters? Sadly, the only impetus for a change may be an uptick in dangerous bear activity. If black bear attack reports increase over the next few years or so, California lawmakers might be better able to glimpse the practical benefits of bear hunting. It’s just a shame that such dire circumstances must occur to prove something that has been scientifically proven – that hunters help to control game populations – time and time again.

Where do we stand in the bear hunting realm? Should hunters be allowed to continue to hunt them in ways they have for years? Leave your thoughts below.

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California Bear Harvest Hits Alarmingly Low Levels