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May 25, 2012

California Fish and Game Commission Stays Out of Legislation to Ban Hounding of Bears and Bobcats

Commissioner calls hounding an “abhorrent” practice

Despite pressure from the National Rifle Assn. and the hunting lobby, California’s Fish and Game Commission elected not to take a formal position on Senate Bill 1221—legislation that would prohibit the cruel, unsporting practice of using of dogs to hunt bears and bobcats. This action will give added momentum to S.B. 1221, which passed the Senate earlier this week and now heads to the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife committee. The bill’s author is Sen. Ted W. Lieu, D-Torrance, and it is sponsored by The Humane Society of the United States.

“Eighty-three percent of California voters oppose the inhumane use of dogs to hunt down bears and bobcats. Commissioner Richard Rogers spoke for hunters and non-hunters alike when he called the practice ‘abhorrent,’ and ‘absolutely not fair chase,’” said Jennifer Fearing, California senior state director for The HSUS.

The Commission oversees California’s hunting and fishing regulations, and its decision not to oppose the legislation demonstrates yet again that the practice of hounding is outside the bounds of routine or acceptable hunting practices.

At its Monterey meeting this week, Commissioner Michael Sutton remarked that California “is in a minority in still allowing hound hunting” and urged that they “should demonstrate this is a progressive Commission and support this bill.” And after public testimony was unexpectedly limited by Commission President Dan Richards, no motion was offered to oppose the bill as recommended by the Commission’s own advisory group, the Al Taucher’s Preserving Hunting and Sport Fishing Opportunities Committee.

In hounding, dogs are set upon frightened prey animals and often chase them for miles, across all types of habitat, including forests, private property, and into national parks. Dogs are fitted with high‐tech radio devices that allow bear and bobcat houndsmen to follow the chasing dogs' movement remotely. Once exhausted or cornered, prey animals either face the marauding dogs or seek refuge in a tree where they are typically shot at point-blank range.

Hounding of bears and bobcats is wholly unconnected to other uses of dogs while hunting, namely using dogs to retrieve waterfowl or flush out birds. Though some hunting dogs simply retrieve animals who have been killed or point hunters in the direction of their quarry, hounding of bears and bobcats involves dogs harassing wildlife—often causing injuries to the dogs when a bear or bobcat fights back.

Supporters of S.B. 1221 testified before the commission that hounding of bears and bobcats is not only cruel and inhumane for the animals involved, but a violation of hunting’s “fair chase” ethic. Public testimony was delivered by representatives of The HSUS, Santa Cruz SPCA, Born Free USA, Santa Clara County Activists for Animals, Project Coyote, the Bear League, and Action for Animals.

Facts:

  • Fourteen states—including Montana, Colorado, Washington, Pennsylvania and Oregon—allow bear hunting but prohibit hounding. Montana’s wildlife management officials consider prohibiting hounding a feature of the state’s “fair chase” principles.
  • A statewide survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc. in 2011 reveals that 83 percent of California voters oppose allowing packs of dogs to chase and kill bears – with 75 percent of voters saying they would support a statewide ballot measure to end this trophy hunting method that puts bears, dogs and other wildlife in jeopardy of serious harm, suffering and death.
  • S.B. 1221 would make California the 15th state to prohibit the hounding of bears and the 14th state to ban the hounding of bobcats.
  • Dogs can be struck by vehicles, die from dehydration or as a result of violent confrontations with wildlife, and many are abandoned, which puts a strain on local animal shelters.
  • Bears are very poor distance runners and may tire and be overtaken by the dog pack. In bobcat hounding, the bobcat may stop and attempt to confront the dog pack leading to possible injury and death from the conflict for both the dogs and bobcat.
  • S.B. 1221 is co-authored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-6, Sens. Mark Leno, D-3, and Leland Yee, D-8, and Assemblymembers Toni Atkins, D-76, Bob Blumenfield, D-40, Mike Eng, D-49, Paul Fong, D-22, Anthony Portantino, D-44, Jose Solorio, D-69, and Das Williams, D-35.
  • Thousands of Californians including wildlife advocates, ranchers, hunters and landowners have written or called in support of S.B. 1221, as have dozens of animal protection, wildlife rehabilitation and animal sheltering organizations including The HSUS, Sierra Club California, ASPCA, State Humane Association of California, the Bear League, and Wildcare.

Media Contact: Stephanie Twining, 301-258-1491, stwining@humanesociety.org

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