Fear of orphaned cubs nixes new spring bear hunt

State wildlife regulators on Friday scuttled a proposed 250-tag spring bear hunt for southwestern Oregon, saying a groundswell of opposition over orphaning cubs outweighed justifications offered for it.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted a suite of big-game hunts for 2015 after it stripped the proposed Siskiyou Plus hunt from the rolls, leaving the 4,400-tag Southwest Spring Bear Hunt the lone opportunity for spring bear hunting in the region.

Commissioner Michael Finley said state biologists failed to prove the new hunt was needed amid heavy opposition over adding opportunities to shoot sows with young cubs shortly after they emerge from their dens.

Supporters countered that shooting sows with cubs under a year old already is illegal and that statistics show very few cubs would be at risk in what biologists considered a chance to increase hunting opportunities.

"I just felt there were no justifications for it," said Finley, of Medford. "The 4,400 tags were enough to provide opportunity. I didn't feel like I was cheating anyone out of a bear."

Finley was joined by Commissioners Bobby Levy of Echo, Laura Anderson of Newport and Greg Wolley of Portland in opposing the hunt. Holly Akenson of Enterprise and Medford lawyer Bob Webber, who resides in Port Orford, voiced support for including the hunt.

Their positions were voiced during a straw poll. The commission then removed the hunt before voting unanimously for the remainder of the 2015 package.

Of the 32 states that allow some form of bear hunting, Oregon is one of eight that offer spring bear hunts.

"This was an important victory for us, for sure," said Scott Beckstead, Oregon senior director for the Humane Society of the United States, which was part of a coalition of groups opposing the hunt.

"It's time to take a hard look to see if spring bear hunting has a place in Oregon," Beckstead said.

Largely with help from an HSUS form letter, opponents to the hunt filed more than 180 letters of opposition.

The Siskiyou Plus hunt would have run in conjunction with the current Southwest Oregon hunt, which opens April 1 and ends May 31. About 9 percent of hunters participating in the hunt get a bear, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Also, 27 percent of the hunter-killed bears in that hunt are female, so a 250-tag hunt likely would have meant six dead females, and it was unknown how many of those would have young cubs.

Chances of that were low, biologists said, based on the facts that sows have cubs every two years, that most sows don't have cubs until they are around 4 years old and that the hunt's May 31 end is before sows become more active outside of their dens.

"It's really not having any effect on our black bear population," Don Whittaker, ODFW's ungulate species coordinator, told the commission. "It wouldn't even have a measurable impact on the population size."

The southwestern Oregon bear population is estimated at about 5,000 animals.

The current Southwest Spring Bear Hunt covers 11 of the state's wildlife-management units in southwestern Oregon, but the lion's share of the hunting occurs in the Siuslaw Unit — the closest to the Willamette Valley.

Mark Vargas, ODFW's Rogue District biologist, proposed the Siskiyou Plus hunt for the nine wildlife management units in the region that draw the least attention from spring hunters despite their large bear populations.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

 

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