The theme for this year’s International Day of Forests (21 March) is ‘forests and health’. It provides an opportunity to reflect on the important role that forests play in our lives and whether our national environmental laws, which are currently under review, are doing enough to ensure that future generations...
Last week, residents of Arcadia, California, spotted a black bear they were used to seeing around the neighborhood. But this time, something was different. The bear was moaning and was clearly suffering; an arrow was sticking out of his flesh. This is a heartbreaking reminder that black bear hunting season is underway in the Golden State.
During this season, trophy hunters armed with bows and arrows and rifles trample into the woods to try and kill up to 1,700 of the state’s beloved bears. Despite polling that shows a whopping 70% of California residents believe black bears should not be hunted, the California Fish and Game Commission voted down a petition we submitted this past April that would have paused the annual hunt and given bears a much-needed reprieve.
The injured bear in Arcadia has since disappeared, despite attempts by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to locate him. All too often, the use of bows and arrows does not result in a quick, clean kill. Researchers note that their use results in an unacceptable ratio—in one study, as much as 50%—of wounding white-tailed deer, rather than killing them quickly. And black bears are even more difficult than deer to kill with an arrow because of their massive muscles and heavy bones. Online hunting videos also document that wounded bears can sometimes linger in extreme pain before they die slowly from various internal injuries and blood loss.
California’s bears are already facing impossible challenges that have been exacerbated by “megadrought,” the worst drought in the region in more than 1,200 years. Wildfires have ravaged bear habitats throughout the state, and bears fleeing from the flames or trying to find food in burned-out moonscapes are being struck by vehicles in record numbers, particularly mother bears with cubs.
To make matters worse, at the same time of year when trophy hunters are putting bears in their crosshairs, those bears are also beginning their intensive search for food to consume enough calories to survive the winter. They need about 20,000 calories per day—the equivalent of 77 Beyond Burgers—as part of a frenzied eating pattern called “hyperphagia.” The absolute last thing bears need is to worry about dodging arrows and bullets during such a critical time.
Thirty-three states currently allow the trophy hunting of bears. Some states even allow the killing of bear cubs, chasing bears with packs of trailing hounds and shooting bears over piles of smelly junk food and other treats that function as bait to lure them to their deaths.
Currently, California bear hunters are not allowed to use bait or hounds and can kill only one bear each season. However, there are ongoing and disturbing efforts from a small fraction of trophy hunters to change that. Another petition pending before the California Fish and Game Commission would double the number of bears individual hunters can kill. The commission’s Wildlife Resources Committee was expected to discuss and vote on the petition at its Sept. 15 meeting but ran out of time before it could address the petition and hear public comment. During this meeting, bear hunters also urged the state’s wildlife agency to consider allowing springtime bear hunting. In that season, weakened bears—including mothers with newborn or yearling cubs—are vulnerable after just emerging from their dens. These same hunters also favor authorizing the hunting of bears with packs of hounds even though the state legislature banned the practice in 2012.
We have our work cut out for us to protect California’s bears—and all bears—from such blatant cruelty. You can speak up for bears, especially if you live in California, by letting the state’s Fish and Game Commission know that you oppose the trophy hunting of the state’s black bears, and that under no circumstances should the authorities increase the number of bears who can be killed, nor allow such cruel and unsporting methods like hunting with hounds or spring hunting.
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