Spring is a crucial time for black bears: After emerging from their dens following months in winter hibernation, many spend the first few weeks building up strength by eating mainly grasses and other plants. Mother bears are especially weak, having spent the last few months nursing cubs hungry for their fat-rich milk.
That’s why we were so heartened when the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted last weekend against reinstating a spring black bear hunt. Spring hunts are a nasty form of cruelty, and Washington was one of just eight states to allow them. Not only do spring hunts make it far too easy for trophy hunters to kill vulnerable and malnourished bears, but they often leave newborn and yearling cubs orphaned—many of whom die from starvation, predation or exposure to weather. And all for nothing: As we’ve long known, trophy hunting is not an effective means of preventing conflicts with humans, partly because trophy hunters generally kill bears far from human habitation.
The victory in Washington came about largely because that state’s residents, along with the HSUS and a robust coalition of wildlife and animal welfare organizations, raised their voices and submitted thousands of comments in opposition to reinstating the spring bear hunt. (The commission had voted to stop the hunt last November after the HSUS, our coalition partners, and Washington residents spoke out against it, but trophy hunting proponents brought forward a proposal to reinstate it.)
Time and again, when members of the public are given the chance to weigh in, they say in no uncertain terms that events like the spring bear hunt are cruel and unsporting. Even a report conducted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Responsive Management confirmed this sentiment: Their 2019 survey of American attitudes toward hunting revealed that a majority of Westerners oppose spring bear hunts.
And Washington isn’t the only state making progress on behalf of bears. Last month, the California Fish and Game Commission advanced an HSUS petition that could make the state a much more hospitable one for black bears. The petition—which is now with the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife for their recommendation—asks California to stop the hunting season on bears until the state does three things:
- Carries out a population study using empirical evidence, not a population model based on bears killed by trophy hunters
- Studies the effects of climate change on bears, because we know that increased drought and wildfires are making their lives even more challenging (last year, more than three million acres of wildland ecosystems burned in California)
- Updates its outdated bear management plan based on the best available science
California’s current bear management plan, drafted in 1998, is woefully out of date. We’re asking the state to revisit its plan based on the climate crisis—and to update it with the new science, rather than relying on knowledge from a quarter-century ago. I hope to report back with good news after the Fish and Game Commission considers our petition at their meeting next month.
I also hope to share news from Arizona soon, too: On April 1st, that state’s Fish and Game Commission is scheduled to vote on updated hunting guidelines. While the proposed guidelines still allow heavy levels of trophy hunting on bears, mountain lions and bobcats, there are some positive changes. The wildlife agency is proposing a significantly shortened spring bear hunting season and prohibiting the hunting of cubs and mother bears with cubs. Arizonans can call on the commission to end spring bear hunting altogether by submitting comments online right now.
We’ve also seen signs of progress across the country, on the East Coast: In Maryland, the Department of Natural Resources solicited public comments on a proposal to expand the annual bear hunting season from five days to more than two weeks—essentially doubling the season’s length. After we asked not to expand the hunt at all, the Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service proposed—and the Wildlife Advisory Commission approved—a one-day expansion of the hunt. This modest victory came after the HSUS and state residents raised concerns about Maryland’s bear population, citing uncertainty about their numbers and food sources. We will continue to push for a more accurate population count, based on gold-standard methods rather than using the numbers of dead bears to estimate what the living population might look like.
Backed by an army of animal advocates and armed with the best possible science, we’ll continue fighting in Maryland—and across the United States—to protect black bears and give them the best chance at survival we can.