Expanded Elk and Black Bear Hunting Proposed

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A few more tags and greatly expanded hunting areas will be available to elk hunters next fall in California's far north--if recommendations from the Department of Fish and Game are approved by the state Fish and Game Commission.

The DFG's Region 1 office said biologists have proposed expanding the special Marble Mountains and Shasta elk hunts to include all or parts of Trinity, Humboldt, Siskiyou, Shasta, Modoc and Lassen counties where expanding populations of the large deer family mammal are taking up residence.

The proposed modifications of north state elk hunts are described in a package of statewide mammal hunting and trapping rule changes submitted to the state commission by the DFG on Feb. 9. Commissioners will mull the proposals and those of the public at an open meeting April 5 in Long Beach.

The new regulations--covering hunting for deer, elk, bear, wild pig, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, rabbits and tree squirrels--will be adopted via a commission conference call April 25 in Sacramento. They will become effective July 1 and, barring emergency changes, remain in effect through June 30, 2004.

Fish and Game's Redding office said it is still developing herd data that will help set tag quotas for deer zones in Region 1, including the highly prized northeastern X zones. Habitat degradation has pulled deer numbers down throughout the north in recent years, although preliminary data appear to point to a leveling this year.

No significant changes have been proposed by the DFG for Region 1 deer hunting, with the exception of a recommendation for archery hunting in the four central C zones. Fish and Game has proposed creation of an archery-only tag valid in all four zones, which would result in general-season "rifle" tags being good only during the rifle periods and archery-only tags good only during the early archery seasons.

Under regulations of recent years, general season tag holders have hunted with archery equipment during the early archery seasons in zones C2 and C3 and with a rifle or bow during the general season in all four zones. Special archery tags have been required for the archery seasons in C1 and C4.

The DFG also has proposed bumping the statewide quota trigger on bear season kill from 1,500 to 1,700. Bear hunting seasons have been cut short in recent years because the reported kill has hit the 1,500 mark before the scheduled season end.

Fish and Game said California's bear population is estimated to have increased to upwards of 31,000 animals, well above estimates of 18,000 to 23,000 calculated in the 1970s and 1980s.

For the limited elk hunts of Region 1, the DFG is recommending an increase in the number of tags allocated to western Siskiyou County's Marble Mountains elk hunt from 30 to 40, all of them either-sex. The boundary would be expanded to include a portion of Humboldt County and all of Trinity, Shasta and Siskiyou counties west of Interstate 5 between Highway 299 and Oregon.

The Shasta elk hunt would be renamed the Northeastern California Rocky Mountain Elk Hunt; would offer 10 either-sex general and five either-sex archery elk tags; and, would comprise an area in northeastern California generally east of Highway 97 and north of Highway 299 in Modoc, Shasta and Lassen counties.

Through natural range expansions by herds in Oregon and California, the northeastern California's elk population is now estimated to be 750 animals, the agency said.

Other DFG proposals before the commission would:

*Change the tag structure from 25 either-sex elk to 12 bulls and 13 antlerless elk for the Big Lagoon in Humboldt County and expand the hunt boundary, which comprises lands owned primarily by Simpson Timber Company.

*Shift the season opening for deer zones X7a and X7b two weeks later.

*Eliminate the mandatory orientation attendance for the J4 Shasta-Trinity junior deer hunt and the statewide requirement that a chaperon 18 or older accompanying a junior hunter be a "licensed, non-hunting adult."

*Create new junior deer hunts in zones D3-D5 and X7a-X7b.

*Make the first business day after Aug. 1, rather than the current first business day after Sept. 1, the date upon which second-application deer hunters may request leftover C, D and "additional hunt" tags from the DFG's license office.

*Reduce the red tape and accounting requirements of locker plant operators who hang and process game meat for hunters.

*Streamline the application process for landowners seeking a cooperative elk hunting tag for a specific tag recipient and permit eligible persons to submit an annual application for each public hunt area within which their land lies.

*Set the opening day for bear hunting to match the opening day for deer rifle hunting in northeastern deer zones X8, X9a, X9b, X9c and X12.

*Modify the depredation permit term for all legal species except deer to cover a maximum of one year and allows federal employees employed in the animal control business to act as an agent for landowners.