Marc Kenyon, DFG Wildlife Branch, (916) 445-3515
Kirsten Macintyre, DFG Communications, (916), 322-8911
Bear hunters taking to the field this season, if successful, will need to have their heads more closely examined. Department of Fish and Game (DFG) biologists and wardens will require a tooth to be pulled from the skull of each bear taken during the 2011 black bear hunting season that will begin as early as August 13 in the A Zone.
This is a change from last year, when DFG only required that a tooth be pulled from every other bear harvested during the season. The change stems from a request by the California Fish and Game Commission, which wants to take a closer look at the management of black bear hunting in California. “We currently manage black bear hunting at a statewide level, but we want to be doubly sure that we’re not negatively impacting local bear populations,” said Marc Kenyon, DFG’s Bear Program Coordinator.
The Commission is the deciding body for fishing and hunting regulations. In 2010, a proposal to modify the number of bears legally taken during the hunting season was closely scrutinized by Commission members as well as the public. During the regulation setting process, Commission members and the public voiced a desire to look at regional bear hunt management.
Since 2005, a tooth has been pulled from half of the bears legally taken during each hunting season. Current hunting regulations state that the skull of any bear taken during the hunting season becomes the property of DFG. Those portions not needed for scientific purposes are returned to the hunter.
The teeth provide key insight into the bear population. A premolar is pulled from the bear’s mandible and processed at a Montana laboratory specializing in aging animals. The teeth are cut in half, stained and examined under a microscope. Lab technicians can then count the rings, called cementum annuli, which are deposited annually like tree rings. The number of rings indicate the age of the bear. Reproductive events can also be detected in female teeth.
DFG biologists use this information to monitor the bear population. The age and gender data can be combined to produce a conservative population estimate and establish other parameters. This information is then used to inform the Commission when deciding new hunting regulations.
More tooth data will ultimately allow DFG to monitor bear populations at the local level with better precision.
California’s black bear population is estimated to be higher than 30,000. Current hunting regulations allow up to 1,700 bears to be taken during the hunting season. More information about black bear management in California can be found at www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/hunting/bear/index.html.