Editorial: County bear hunt still a bad idea

State Fish and Game commissioners are scheduled to vote today on a controversial proposal to expand bear hunting — unless they approve a late staff request to table the discussion. Among other changes, the commissioners may expand the area where hunting is allowed to include San Luis Obispo County.

This proposal has come to the commission multiple times already. We didn’t support it then, and we still believe it’s a bad idea.

One of the most compelling arguments against it comes from Fish and Game Commissioner Michael Sutton, who is a former federal game warden.

He recently told the Los Angeles Times that he’s leaning toward voting against the proposed changes, because he believes there could be increased potential for poaching and illegal commercialization. “Our wardens are already strapped,” he told the LA Times.

If an experienced warden foresees problems, that’s a huge red flag and reason enough to deny the request. But on top of that, we continue to take issue with the review process itself and the lack of opportunities for local input. The state Fish and Game Commission has yet to schedule a hearing on this issue in San Luis Obispo County, even though our elected Board of Supervisors, among others, have made multiple requests for one.

Also, we have yet to see a truly compelling and complete case to back up the contention that the bear population is growing to the point that hunting is necessary to keep it in check.

An environmental report on the proposed changes shows no alarming increase in incidents involving bears, though more recent data does point to an increase in accidents involving the animals. As Tribune environmental writer David Sneed reported, five or six bears were struck and killed by vehicles on the Cuesta Grade over the nine-month period ending in March.

That’s a concern, to be sure, but Caltrans is looking at possible solutions. Those include installing concrete barriers or fencing to prevent wildlife from crossing the freeway. Such measures would improve safety for both animals and motorists, in a humane way.

We support exploring those alternatives before concluding that a bear hunt is necessary here.