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And I'm Michele Norris.
In close to 30 states, from Maine to Michigan to Washington State, it is legal to hunt bears. Hunters make trophies of the hides and the heads and use the meat for sausages, stews and steaks. In California last year, nearly 25,000 people got permits to hunt black bears. Now, as Lisa Morehouse reports, the state's Department of Fish and Game is proposing changes to where and how black bears can be hunted.
TINA MOREHOUSE: Jim Williams and John Waddles(ph) have hunted together for 30 years. The bow hunters are two of the instructors at a bear-hunting clinic near Placerville, California.
(Soundbite of horn)
Mr. JIM WILLIAMS (Hunters): That's a call a sow makes in heat. But that is one way to get the bear to come to you.
MOREHOUSE: They ask class members to attach drawings of lungs, a heart, a liver to a poster of a bear.
Unidentified Man: Someplace like that. Right here?
MOREHOUSE: Each year, the Department of Fish and Game holds 18 advanced hunter education clinics like this one throughout California.
Marc Kenyon is a biologist with the Department of Fish and Game and the statewide coordinator for black bear, mountain lion and wild pig programs.
Dr. MARC KENYON (Biologist, Department of Fish and Game, California): Essentially, I'm here to make sure we don't decimate the bear population. We can have fewer bears, we can have more bears, but we can't have no bears.
MOREHOUSE: Kenyon says there were roughly 38,000 black bears in California last year.
Robbie Samples came here from Reading, California. At a lunch break, she explains why she brought her 12 and 13-year-old sons.
Ms. ROBBIE SAMPLES: We get to see these animals that are in their own habitat. And really hunting is, I think, probably one of the most humane ways of, you know, supplying your family with food, because these animals get to enjoy being animals until the very last moment when they don't instead of being raised on a feed lot.
MOREHOUSE: Samples and other students pick up a packet of bear meat recipes and drive to an outside location about 10 miles away to see a black bear being field dressed.
Unidentified Man #2: Just like most other wild game, you can still drift it on the ground or you can hang it.
MOREHOUSE: Instructors show class members how to hide the bear and salt it for preservation, how to report their kill and what to take to the taxidermist.
(Soundbite of applause)
MOREHOUSE: In April, the state's Fish and Game Commission will vote on proposed changes to bear hunting. One key regulation would stay the same: only one bear killed per hunter each season. What would change is how the end of bear hunting season would be defined. Currently, it's based on the number of bears killed. Last year, the quota was 1,700. Under the new proposal, the season would close on a date - the end of December. That's a couple weeks later than it closed this past year.
The Department of Fish and Game anticipates no more than 600 more bears will be killed each season under the new proposals.
Mr. JENNIFER FEARING (Senior State Director, California, Humane Society of the United States): We find these proposals unsporting, reckless and totally unjustified.
MOREHOUSE: Jennifer Fearing is California's senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States.
Ms. FEARING: They are eliminating absolutely the annual quota for bears and they're extending the hunt into a county - San Luis Obispo County - that's never permitted bear hunting before. So, without a doubt, it's certain that the number of bears killed with increase.
MOREHOUSE: The Humane Society is especially opposed to hunting with dogs, including the current use of radio-tracking collars and the new proposal to allow GPS collars.
Ms. FEARING: When you're using packs of dogs to run through the forest and they're equipped with collars that allow you to know where they are and what they're doing, that's not hunting, that's not sport.
MOREHOUSE: Back at the bear-hunting clinic, Josh Brones, a member of California Houndsmen for Conservation, vehemently disagrees.
Mr. JOSH BRONES (Member, California Houndsmen for Conservation): There's nothing that's unsporting or unnatural or unfair about the use of dogs.
MOREHOUSE: After his fellow houndsman demonstrates the use of radio collars, Brones gives an impassioned history about hunting with dogs, and he encourages hunters to know the regulations backwards and forwards and report illegal poachers.
Mr. BRONES: Stay in the good graces of the public, stay in the good graces of the wardens and then do what we can to ensure that hunting is going to be a pastime that future generations of Americans can enjoy.
MOREHOUSE: California Fish and Game Commission will hear opinions on the proposed changes to bear-hunting regulations through mid-April.
For NPR News, I'm Lisa Morehouse.
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