The Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has issued a new policy on protecting black bears. This comes amid increasing reports of bear conflicts with humans and livestock in recent years, according to the California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA).

The policy still allows property owners to obtain a permit to kill problem bears, and a rancher can immediately dispatch any bear caught in the act of injuring livestock.

But the agency indicated it will be adding new conditions to the permits, which CCA fears would create significant burdens for obtaining one. CDFW will encourage ranchers to first seek nonlethal measures to limit contact with bears, such as using guard dogs, enclosing livestock in pens or installing fencing, motion lights, sprinklers or noise machines.

Meanwhile, the department is reviewing a Humane Society of the U.S. petition to eliminate the hunting season for black bears, claiming record-setting wildfires and drought have decimated forests and bear habitat. The state currently sets the hunting limit at 1,700 bears per year.

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In a letter of opposition, CCA’s Kirk Wilbur called the petition an opportunistic ploy that takes advantage of a flawed estimation of the black bear population. The 2020 estimate was based on harvest numbers, which were likely down due to the pandemic, widespread closures of public lands and new laws limiting hunting, he argued.

The issue of counting the population came up in a Senate budget subcommittee hearing this week with CDFW Director Chuck Bonham. He gave a detailed explanation of the process and said the estimate has been stable at 40,000 bears. The Humane Society contends the population could be less than 10,000.

“The overall population, based on our work, is not going down,” he said. “It looks pretty stable.”

The Fish and Game Commission will debate the petition in April.