Barely a week after it was introduced, a San Francisco state senator is no longer moving forward with legislation that would ban bear hunting in California.
With more pressing issues such as the pandemic underway, the senator felt “this isn’t the time to focus on this right now,” Catie Stewart, a spokesman for Sen. Scott Wiener, told The Sacramento Bee on Monday.
The Democrat introduced Senate Bill 252, “The Bear Protection Act” sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States late last month, saying California’s bear population was under threat from California’s “inhumane” bear hunting season.
In just a few days, state and national hunting associations organized a massive online activism campaign that urged those who supported Californians’ right to hunt the bears to contact legislators.
More than 21,000 people signed a Change.org petition opposing Wiener’s bill.
Hunters argued that their hunting season hasn’t harmed the state’s growing bear population; that hunters regularly eat the bears they shoot; and that it’s actually illegal to leave the meat of the bear in the field.
State wildlife agency officials say California’s statewide black bear population has more than doubled in the past four decades, and black bears are not anywhere near endangered.
State officials estimate that in 1982, the statewide bear population was between 10,000 and 15,000 bears. The black bear population is now “conservatively estimated” to be between 30,000 and 40,000 animals, state officials said.
Locally, around Lake Tahoe, bear populations have grown to some of the largest densities in the country, and bears have been aggressively breaking into vacation homes, and attacks on people happen from time to time.
In 2011, with bear populations growing, the state proposed increasing the state’s annual harvest quota from 1,700 to 2,000 bears, but the plan was scuttled after fierce opposition from the state’s influential cadre of environmentalists and animal rights activists.
The next year, the state legislature banned hunting bears with hounds in legislation pushed by animal rights activists who called the practice barbaric.
The hound-hunt ban took effect in 2013, and dramatically reduced the number of bears hunters killed in California. Hunters haven’t hit the bear-kill quota since the hound-hunting ban took effect.
California wildlife officials close the bear hunting season if hunters report killing 1,700 bears. Last year, the season ended on Dec. 27 with the state’s 30,394 licensed bear hunters killed just 919 bears.