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Hunting season draws debate about bears

Shooting in self defense OK if necessary, residents say
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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With bear hunting season nearly upon us in California, and the first black bear hunt set to begin in Reno near Lake Tahoe, local residents who have had run-ins with bears are voicing their thoughts. The California Department of Fish and Game said it is legal for residents to shoot bears in self defense, but they better be able to prove the threat. The first Nevada bear hunting season is scheduled for Aug. 20-Dec. 31, roughly the same as California’s. Nevada’s season has been met with opposition from NoBearHuntNV.org, which has filed a lawsuit to try to stop the hunt. The Nevada Department of Wildlife has issued 45 licenses for the season and only 20 bears are allowed to be killed, six of which can be female. Auburn resident Jane Bergquist, who had a bear in her Auburn Woods condominium complex foraging for food two days in a row this last week, said she has mixed feelings about bear hunting. “It seems to me that if it’s getting overpopulated that they should do something to cut down the population, because then there is less for them to eat and they are going to head for the populated areas even more,” Bergquist said. “I sure would hate if they killed a mama bear that had babies. Then you have to figure out how they are going to live.” Bergquist said she is OK with shooting a bear in self defense if it is necessary. “If it was a real threat, yes,” she said. “I mean I would hate to see that happen but I think that sometimes there is a point where you don’t have a choice.” Dana Michaels, spokeswoman for California Department of Fish and Game, said it is legal to shoot a bear in self defense, but there needs to be proof of the threat it posed. “If a bear attacks a person … that is legal,” Michaels said. “If you don’t have a weapon and can’t do that, immediately call 911. There would certainly still be an investigation, and you better be able to prove that your life was in danger because if somebody just shoots a bear because it’s crossing through somebody’s property, or you happen to see it, that is not a good enough excuse. You really have to be in danger and the bear really has to be threatening.” Michaels said if a shooter can’t provide evidence, he or she could be charged with poaching. Mike Carion, assistant chief of the Northern Enforcement District of Fish and Game, said consequences for bear poaching could be a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in county jail. Carion said fines can as much as double after court fees are attached. Selling bear parts is a felony in California and fines are no less than $5,000 and no more than $40,000, with a possibility of up to a year in county jail, Carion said. Marc Kenyon, bear program coordinator for Fish and Game, said because bear hunting requirements have gotten stricter, the population has been allowed to thrive. Because there are more bears, they are taking up a wider territory, coming down from higher elevations. “In bear country people need to understand that their primary motivation is food, and the way to avoid confrontation with bears in and around your residence is to ensure that all food attractants are stored properly or made unavailable to bears,” Kenyon said. “I can’t stress that enough.” Kenyon said if he finds that 1,700 bears have been killed in the hunting season before the deadline, he can end it early. Auburn resident Julie Joiner lives in the same complex as Bergquist and worries about the threat bears could pose to the young children in the community, including her two grandchildren. “I don’t even feel safe for them to even go in the backyard anymore,” Joiner said. Joiner said she thinks people should be allowed to shoot bears in self defense. “In self defense and when there are children involved, definitely when there are children involved,” she said. “I don’t have a gun, and I don’t want to have a gun, because I have custody of my two grandchildren. I don’t know. I don’t want to get in trouble saying, ‘Yes, shoot a bear’ … but they have got to do something about the bears.” Joiner said when bears do make visits to the complex, Auburn police respond, but she wishes Fish and Game could do something about it. Kenyon said there are only certain instances in which the department can respond to bear incidents. “The department can’t do anything unless the bear is posing a threat to public safety or is damaging private property,” Kenyon said. “Once those occur we have our policies that will allow justification to write a permit for that bear to be killed by the landowner, or if it’s public safety, posing a threat to public safety, the department can come in and kill that animal.” Weimar resident Janet Hoogendyk, who has had a bear visit the property she is renting several times this last week, said she definitely thinks its OK to shoot a bear if it is posing an imminent threat to a person’s life, but she doesn’t agree with hunting bears. “I’m not down for hunting any animals really,” Hoogendyk said. “I think every animal that has a heartbeat has as much right to live as you and I, unless it’s a threat to your life.” John Kirkpatrick, president of Gold Country Wildlife Rescue in Auburn, said local residents are living in bear territory and need to try not to attract them. “Their habitats have been reduced because we have moved into their area,” Kirkpatrick said. “One of the things, even though we moved into their area, that a lot of us are not careful about, is that we don’t have anything that is attractive to bears and making sure everything is bear proof.” Kirkpatrick said he would like to see the data for Nevada’s bear population, because he isn’t sure it’s necessary to hold a hunt there if the number of bears is much smaller than in California. “If they would share that I would say, ‘Hey, that’s reasonable,’ but right now it’s just, ‘Why are you guys doing this?’” he said. “It doesn’t appear to make a lot of sense.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ------------------------------------------------------ Some tips from the Department of Fish and Game to stay safe in bear country • Store garbage in bear-proof containers or in your garage • Put away picnic leftovers and clean barbecue grills • Keep pet food inside and put bird feeders away • Pick up fallen tree fruit or put electric fencing around trees • Keep watching on children and teach them what to do if they come across a bear • If you come across a bear, make a lot of noise and make yourself as big as possible, do not run away. If you are attacked, fight back, call 911 immediately • Never approach a bear or pick up a cub • When camping, clean up immediately and store food and perfumed toiletries in bear-proof containers or in airtight containers in the trunk of your vehicle. For more tips on living around bears and other wild animals, visit dfg.ca.gov/keepmewild or dfg.ca.gov/news/issues/bear