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Judge Bars Bear Hunting Until Population Study Is Finished

Times Staff Writer

California’s black bears were granted a reprieve from hunters Thursday when a judge ruled that the state Department of Fish and Game must halt further hunts until it completes a full study of the bear population.

Superior Court Judge Cecily Bond ruled in favor of the Fund for Animals and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the two groups that had filed a suit to block this year’s proposed black bear hunting season.

Continuing the hunts without a full study of bear population is a “prescription for extinction,” the judge said.

The judge’s ruling is likely to mean a cancellation of bear hunting for at least the rest of the year. The first bear season--for hunters with bows and arrows--was scheduled to begin Aug. 5. The ban will also affect rifle hunting season, scheduled to begin in October, and will restrict the killing of individual bears that damage property.

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Attorneys for the state said Thursday that they did not know whether they would appeal the decision.

Those seeking the ban on bear hunting were elated at the decision.

“This is a victory for the 98.5% of Californians who don’t hunt and a victory for 100% of the bears,” said Fund for Animals founder and President Cleveland Amory in a telephone interview from Rhode Island.

In 1977, the California Supreme Court said that Fish and Game officials must conduct a full environmental review before establishing dates and quotas for hunting seasons. Since then, the department has granted as many as 12,000 bear hunting permits in a single year, based on staff estimates of the bear population but without public review.

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In some years, as many as 1,400 bears were killed. Fish and Game officials estimate the black bear population in the state to be between 10,000 and 15,000, but argued in court that they are not required to complete a full environmental impact report annually.

But Bond agreed with the plaintiffs that the health of the bear population has changed drastically since the 1977 high court ruling. “I am dismayed that there is no record that any environmental impact report has been done since the ruling,” Bond said.

She chastised department officials for not being able to produce a full study they said was done in 1976. Attorneys for the department said they could not find the study.

Fish and Game officials said their yearly internal reviews of the bear population show that the hunts do not pose a threat to overall bear numbers.

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“There is a large, healthy bear population,” said Fish and Game biologist Terry Mansfield during a break in the court proceedings. “We have documented that continually every year.”

In arguing for the animal groups, attorney Michael H. Remy noted that a Fish and Game study in 1982 found that at least as many bears are taken illegally each year as legally, and that the combined effects of those kills have not been adequately considered by the department.


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