Charlton Bonham: Fish & Wildlife, Bear League have something in common; neither wants bears to be euthanized

Other Voices
Charlton H. Bonham

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife shares a goal with the Bear League and others in the Lake Tahoe basin: decreasing the number of black bear depredation permits requested.

Still, we have always been straightforward about our legal obligations and the policies that are in place for issuing bear depredation permits.

Recently in Tahoe Vista, a black bear depredation permit was issued to a homeowner after several unsuccessful efforts to resolve the problem, and a bear was trapped and euthanized.

This outraged Bear League activists and others. We have responded to the Bear League directly regarding their reaction to this incident, including violent posts on their social media accounts about our employees. But we also want residents of Tahoe to know where we stand.

… the Bear League’s fearmongering tactics and demonstrated history of targeted personal attacks has residents frightened to seek out depredation permits.

Black bear depredation permits are covered by section 4181 of the Fish and Game Code. Subdivision (a) of this section states “the department, upon satisfactory evidence of the damage or destruction, actual or immediately threatened, shall issue a revocable permit for the taking and disposition of the animals under regulations adopted by the commission.”

Subdivision (b) requires these permits to state why issuance of the permit was necessary, what efforts were made to solve the problem without killing the bear, and what corrective actions should be implemented to prevent reoccurrence. The Fish and Game Commission has established additional requirements for depredation permits via regulation. (See California Code of Regulations, Title 14, section 401.)

State law clearly defines the criteria for the department to issue a depredation permit for bear. In addition, the department’s Black Bear Depredation Policy further solidifies our response to black bear depredation issues. In all depredation permits issued by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, we work with the person who requests the permit to ensure that issuance of the depredation permit meets all state laws and policies on the matter.

The key to decreased requests for black bear depredation permits lies in educating the human residents and visitors to the basin. The Department has a long-running campaign called “Keep Me Wild,” the purpose of which is to educate anyone in bear country to eliminate bear attractants.

This means bear proofing garbage cans, properly cleaning barbecues, disposing of dropped fruit from trees, never leaving trash, groceries or pet food in vehicles – and this is our responsibility, as humans, to the ecosystem, to the basin, and to ensure that bears can continue to live and thrive in their natural habitat.

More Tahoe residents support the state’s policy and (Fish and Wildlife’s) response to depredation issues than not. We are obligated to uphold the law. In fact, 13 depredation permits were issued in the basin this year about half of which ended with euthanasia. However, the Bear League’s fearmongering tactics and demonstrated history of targeted personal attacks has residents frightened to seek out depredation permits.

After this most recent event, depredation permits previously approved were surrendered because the residents determined they were more afraid of backlash from the Bear League than they were troubled by damage to property, or themselves from a bear.

Still, as with all department policies, the Black Bear Depredation Policy is undergoing review and we anticipate completion of that review mid-2020. While we believe our current policy is strong, regularly reviewing and updating it is just good government and that’s why we do it.

As in the past, Fish and Wildlife will continue to engage, at every opportunity, with multiple stakeholders in the Tahoe area. It’s important that these are cooperative working relationships.

There are many local agencies aligning interests to coordinate policy and law to manage human-bear encounters. We hope to achieve regionwide compliance with local ordinances on trash and other policies and procedures that will reduce human-bear encounters.

We need to find steps toward resolution to address this growing problem and will encourage our staff — many of whom have spent their lives studying bears and work to protect them daily — to participate with constructive, positive efforts.

Because it’s by working together that we can promote bear awareness and help reduce such conflicts in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Charlton H. Bonham is the director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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