Nava Releases Memorandum on Ojai Bear Incident and Calif. Dept. Fish and Game Policies – Seeks Public Input

SACRAMENTO /California Newswire/ — Following a series of meetings with the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), Assemblymember Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara) is requesting public input regarding the policies and actions that resulted in the euthanizing of a black bear in Ojai in October. A memo summarizing DFG’s policies and reasoning behind the decision to euthanize the bear is attached below.

“The bear incident in Ojai raised questions and concerns regarding the California Department of Fish and Game’s policies,” said Nava. “I would like public input responding to the memo so that we can more effectively determine how to enhance public safety and protect wildlife.”

Assemblymember Pedro Nava sent a letter in October to the Director of the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) requesting information on the Ojai bear incident and the Department’s policies on tranquilizing and euthanizing wildlife that are deemed to be a public threat.

In light of both increased development in the urban/wildland interface, larger bear populations, and the numerous wildfires in recent years that destroy wildlife habitat and force animals closer to contact with humans, it is clear that incidents similar to that which occurred in Ojai will only become more frequent.

Said Nava, “It is important that we learn from this situation so that we can prevent it from occurring again in the future.”

Comments on the Memo may be directed to Ben Turner, Legislative Aide, in Assemblymember Nava’s Capitol Office at:

Memorandum Attached:

To: Whom it May Concern
From: Assemblymember Pedro Nava
Date: November 24, 2009
RE: Department of Fish and Game Policies

Having met with Department of Fish and Game (DFG) staff, this is my understanding of the situation that led to the unfortunate incident with the black bear in Ojai:

1. DFG has a Green (sighting), Yellow (threat), and Red (attack) incident identification system. DFG determined that the case in Ojai was a Yellow situation because there was a high probability of human interaction with the bear. In any human wildlife encounter, public safety is the highest priority.

2. Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputies were the first to respond to the bear sighting and reported the animal to DFG. Approximately 7 DFG staff (Wardens and a biologist) were ultimately on the scene.

3. Initially the plan was to give the bear time to come down from the tree and leave the area on its own. Sheriff’s Deputies and DFG Wardens observed the bear for 21 hours. As traffic became busier on nearby streets and as more people came into the area, a safe exit for the bear became less and less likely. Also, it was known that a bear (likely this one) had been reported in a nearby neighborhood very recently. At this point the bear was determined to be a threat to public safety and the decision was made to tranquilize the bear.

4. Once the threat to the public was identified, capture and release for this bear was not appropriate. Pursuant to DFG policy, a bear deemed a public safety threat must be euthanized.

§ When asked if housing the bear was an option to allow the tranquilizer to work through the bear’s system, DFG stated this was not an option as it is typically against DFG policy to house adult bears. DFG stated that when caging and hand feeding a bear, it becomes comfortable with humans and ultimately could become a public safety risk for which the State would be responsible.

§ When asked if DFG could have marked the bear so that hunters would know that the bear had been tranquilized, DFG stated this also was not an option due to the level of threat present within the animal. In some cases, marking and releasing an animal may be appropriate, however those circumstances are rare due to the potential that a hunter may unknowingly take and consume a previously tranquilized bear whose body still contains the tranquilizer.

§ When asked if perhaps there was an alternative tranquilizer drug that could be metabolized by the bear more rapidly, DFG explained that it has a limited number of Food and Drug Administration approved options but that the federal government is considering alternatives and may approve them in the future.

5. DFG also felt that it was important to note California’s black bear population has increased dramatically over the past 25 years. In 1982, the statewide bear population was estimated to be between 10,000 and 15,000. Presently, the statewide black bear population is conservatively estimated to be between 25,000 and 30,000. Consequently, bear habitat has actually expanded into areas where they have not existed in recent history. Suburban growth and increased urban wildlands interface will only cause the number of interactions between bears and humans to increase. DFG emphasized the need for humans living in bear areas to change their behavior in order to reduce the likelihood of human and bear interaction. DFG also said that a vigorous public information campaign is being conducted to inform people about the necessary changes and referenced their website for more information.

In light of this information, I would welcome your thoughts and comments.

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