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VENTURA COUNTY STAR EDITORIAL Putting a leash on cruel methods used by hunters
April 28, 2012
A decades-long effort has again surfaced to ban the use of dogs while hunting bears and bobcats in California.
In the 1990s, two attempts to end the practice failed to advance out of the committee stage in the Legislature. This time, despite a spirited protest Tuesday by hundreds of hunters, Senate Bill 1221 cleared the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water on a 5-3 vote.
One of those voting in favor was state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
SB 1221, sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States and introduced by state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, seeks to halt the practice of using dogs, often equipped with electronic collars, to chase and then corner or tree black bears and bobcats. Once this has occurred, hunters simply follow the collar's signal to the location and shoot their prey.
"Hounding of bears and bobcats flies in the face of fair-chase ethic and causes wildlife and dogs to suffer needlessly," Sen. Lieu said. "It's no surprise that 83 percent of Californians oppose it."
According to state wildlife officials, about 45 percent of the 1,500 to 1,800 bears that are legally killed each year are taken with the use of dogs. As for bobcats, the state issued 4,500 hunting tags last year, and about 11 percent of the bobcats killed involved dogs.
Hunters, who packed the hearing room Tuesday, see the ban as threatening a longtime sport, removing a valuable tool for managing wildlife and harming the economy of a number of small counties that rely on hunting. Further, they claim the bill is a not-so-subtle step by the Humane Society to end all forms of hunting.
Supporters of the legislation say using packs of radio-equipped dogs to chase, often for miles, bears and bobcats isn't really hunting. They call it unethical, unsportsmanlike and a practice that reflects badly on hunters and hunting. Besides, they say, there are alternatives — such as standard tracking techniques to take a bear.
Also, the carefully written bill still allows hunters to use dogs when going after birds and other small animals.
We believe those backing SB 1221 have the best arguments. There is nothing sporting in slaughtering an exhausted bear clinging to a tree limb or shooting a cornered bobcat, and society is just as justified in banning such a practice as it was in outlawing cockfights and the killing of mountain lions.
Fortunately, there has been widespread public revulsion at certain hunting methods. Since 1992, voters in 18 states have approved measures outlawing cruel hunting practices, particularly hounding and use of leg-hold traps. Fourteen states have banned the use of dogs when hunting bears.
Hunters are a dwindling breed in the state. Figures from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put the number of Californians who hunt at only 1 percent. To ensure the health of their sport, hunters need to conform to the standards of the non-hunting public.
Ending inhumane hunting methods is one way of doing that.