Recently, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, representing Califonia’s 33rd Assembly district, introduced a bill (AB 2205) to repeal SB 1221, which was signed into law September 26, 2012, banning the use of dogs to hunt bear and bobcat. The use of dogs in this manner is wholly inconsistent with ecosystem-based management and science-based policy, both of which are lawfully required of all California Department of Fish and Wildlife policy and regulations.
When this practice was legal, its conduct consisted of turning radio-collared hounds loose to pursue, without supervison, whatever they might find through wilderness areas covering miles while hunters tracked the signal the collar emitted. When the dogs had treed their quarry, the hounds’ owners would converge on the scene and shoot the wild animal. As one hunter recently said in a statement supporting AB 2205, it didn’t matter if he was pursuing bear; if his dogs treed a bobcat, he’d shoot the bobcat.
As co-director of Bird Ally X/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, and as chair of the Advocacy Committee for the California Council for Wildlife Rehabilitators, I must oppose AB 2205. There is no decent reason to pursue bear or bobcat with hounds, especially as a sport. As a wildlife hospital, at BAX/HWCC we see first hand the injuries, orphanings and other detrimental impacts our modern society can and does have on wild communities near to us. To choose to inflict this kind of trauma for no more reason than personal amusment is against the spirit of our times. To allow or promote this kind of disrespect flies in the face of the kind of work that now needs to be done. We live in an era where leadership must show the way out of the wretched practices that have led to so many tragedies – the slaughter of species now extinct or struggling, the rivers fouled, the land poisoned, with small regard for anything but appetite. True leadership will take us into an era of co-existence and respect, not mere bloodsport.
As a member of a family that celebrates a long traditon of outdoor enjoyments – deer hunting, waterfowl hunting, small game hunting, ocean fishing, river fishing, bass fishing, harvesting maple, raising dairy cows, marking the seasons and following the infinite cycles of life, all the small things we do when our lives are spent out of doors – I feel a stab of sorrow when I consider the actual circumstances of radio-collared hounds pursuing bear and bobcat through wild lands. There is no more call to accommodate the very small minority of people who find this practice entertaining than there is to accommodate those who would torture housecats – regardless of whatever political advantage is gained in doing so.
Beside these personally felt reasons to support the ban on hounding bear and bobcat, there are ecosystem-based management reasons as well.
Hound Pursuit of Bear and Bobcat Not a Necessary Management Tool
There are unsubstantiated claims that AB 2205 is based in science, yet neither AB 2205’s sponsor nor any of the bill’s supporters have offered peer-reviewed science in support of this claim. Proponents of AB 2205 claim that bear and bobcat need to be hound-hunted in order to properly manage these species. Proponents also claim that “nuisance” bears and bears that pose a threat to public safety need to be managed by recreational hound-hunters. SB 1221 allows for the appropriate take of problem predators by CDFW Wildlife Officers. Additionally, as Marc Kenyon (until recently the statewide CDFW Bear Program Coordinator, now at the Wildlife Investigations Lab) has stated, “California has no management strategy for controlling the bear population, but rather sets take limits to allow recreational use of bears without harming the population.”
Last year, after SB1221 went into effect, 40% less bears were killed than the previous year. (1,040 bears killed in 2013 vs 1,962 killed in 2012). This statistic is consistent with both the general yearly decline in hunting in California as well as the ratio of bears killed with dogs versus those killed without. (46% of bears killed in 2012 were taken with hounds.) It is estimated that there are approximately 36,000 Black Bear in our state. This is not a very high number.
According to Rick Hopkins (founder of the ecological consulting firm Live Oak Associates, who has an extensive background in large carnivore management), recreational hunting, with or without hounds, when using credible science and ecosystem-based planning, is not a tool of predator management. Dr. Hopkins states that the “approach that relies on management of predators by prophylactic control measures or sport hunting is inconsistent with predation theory or the scientific literature.”
Allowing Hounds Loose in Wild Lands Negatively Impacts Non-target Wildlife, is Inhumane
The impact of loosened hounds on non-targeted wildlife is also a harm that cannot be ignored. Personal witness, common sense and scientific inquiry agree that a pack of baying hounds running loose over miles of wild habitat will, at the very least, cause unwarranted stress on the wild animals they encounter. These encounters may even provoke life threatening situations for either wildlife or the free-running dogs. With many species, juveniles stay with their parents for their first winter, a relationship that can be easily disturbed by packs of hounds set loose in wild lands. Hound-hunting also poses inhumane risks for the hounds as well, who are in danger of becoming lost, injured, or killed.
When hound pursuit of Black Bear was legal, it was typical for hound hunters to chase bear without killing. While only one tag is sold to each hunter, there was no limit to the number of bears and bobcat that could be pursued for the chase only. In 2012, according to the Bear Take Report issued by CDFW:
… 42% of returned bear harvest tags indicated bears were taken with the assistance of dogs, whereas 48% of bears were reportedly taken without using dogs; 10% did not report. On average, hound hunters (individuals who reported taking a bear with the assistance of dogs) spent 4.4 days in the field before taking a bear, compared to 3.7 days for non-hound hunters. This disparity in effort likely reflects hound-hunters’ self-reported propensity to tree multiple bears before taking one (emphasis added)
The deleterious effects of hound hunting on the ecosytem that we might call collateral damage are significant and very possibly greater than the impact of the actual kills.
For all of these reasons, SB 1221 was a good step in the right direction. Banning hound-hunting of bear and bobcat is consistent with science-based predator management and the values of Californians.
California is joined by Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Colorado, as well as 10 other states that currently regulate bear hunting by other measures in banning the use of hounds to recreationally hunt bear.
Now Siskiyou and Mendocino Counties’ Boards of Supervisors have voted to support AB 2205, which would repeal the ban and leave it in the hands of each county to determine its own policies regarding the use of hounds to pursue bear and bobcat, apparently irrespective of ecosystem-based management.
As co-director of Bird Ally X/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, I, along with our other co-directors and staff as well as our supporters, urge the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to not follow in these footsteps. Let’s not retreat from the recent gains of our Natural Resource Agency has made in modernizing California’s oversight and conservation of our natural heritage.
Humboldt County has a reputation as the home of sound wildlife management science in California and beyond. Thank you for helping create and maintain that reputation.
Bird Ally X/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center
California Council for Wildlife Rehabilitators