Board of Supervisors opposes proposed hound hunting ban

John Bowman
Mount Shasta native Chris Zanni is circulating a petition that opposes SB 1221, which would outlaw the use of dogs to hunt bobcats and bears in California.

The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously last week to send letters opposing a state senate bill that would outlaw the use of dogs to hunt bobcats and bears.

Currently, it is legal to use dogs to track, corner or tree a black bear or bobcat during the established state hunting seasons for those animals.

Senate Bill 1221, introduced by State Senator Ted Lieu (D - Torrance, Calif.) on March 26, would repeal section 4756 of the Fish and Game code and amend section 3960 of the code.

Chris Zanni, a Mount Shasta native who has hunted with dogs his entire life, is working locally to gather signatures of residents opposing the proposed law. He is concerned about the far reaching effects of such a bill on responsible outdoorsmen who have been hunting in this way for generations.

Chester Harris spoke to the supervisors last week on behalf of the approximately 35 Siskiyou Houndsmen members who appeared before the board on April 3.

He said bear hunters usually spend $2,000 to $3,000 per season on fuel alone and additionally spend money on veterinary bills, vehicle maintenance, restaurants and hotels.

“Our founding fathers used hounds to bring home the bacon, so to speak. It’s a part of American heritage,” Harris said.

Lieu sees it differently.

“California has a long history of protecting its resources and protecting animal welfare,” he said in a press release. “The continued use of hound hunting runs counter... to California’s reputation as a humane state. Hound hunting of bears is illegal in two-thirds of the United States; the time has come for California to abolish this inhumane and unnecessary practice.”

According to data published by the California Department of Fish and Game, black bear harvest in the state has been steadily increasing since its lowest recorded harvest of less than 500 in 1977. The largest harvest on record was more than 2,000 bears in 2008.

Each year, the bear season begins on the first day of deer hunting season, allowing hunters to use one dog per person until the end of the deer season. After deer season ends and the regular bear season begins, bear hunters are allowed to use packs of dogs to track and tree the animals.

Bear season ends on the last Sunday of December or when 1,700 bears are reported killed. Though, according to the CDFG website, in recent years the season has been cut off when 1,500 bears have been reported killed, which has occurred before the last Sunday of December in five of the last six years.

However, the cut-off point of 1,500 or 1,700 bears reported killed does usually result in more kills than the cutoff number, as bears are still harvested between the time the limit is reported and when the announcement is made public.

According to CDFG, bobcat harvests are far below those for bears. In most years since 1980, the sport hunting harvest for bobcats has been in the range of 200 to 400 animals, though this number does not reflect bobcats killed by other methods such as trapping and commercial harvest.

Another member of the Siskiyou Houndsmen told the board that bears are a serious threat to the deer population because they can kill up to 30 percent of fawns.

Danielle Lindler, executive director of the Klamath Alliance for Resources and Environment, also spoke to the board, saying that her organization supports the Siskiyou Houndsmen and will also be sending letters to legislators opposing SB 1221.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement on Lieu’s website, “Hound hunting of bears is cruel and unsporting, and is at odds with the values of the vast majority of Californians.”

Pacelle continued, “It was the abuses associated with hunting of hounds that prompted California voters in 1990 to outlaw all trophy hunting of mountain lions. The same ethical issues are at work with bear and bobcat hunting. We are very grateful to Sen. Ted Lieu for introducing this legislation.”

County response

District 5 Supervisor Marcia Armstrong called the bill “an attack on our culture.” She said she currently has bear meat in her freezer, and she fully supports the right to hunt bears and bobcats with dogs.

She added that she feels the practice “is part of our rich cultural heritage in Siskiyou County.”

Armstrong also agreed that the practice is an important tool in predator management in the area. She said a bear came into her yard last year and took her chickens.

Siskiyou County Natural Resource Policy Specialist Ric Costales strongly agreed that bear hunting with dogs is important culturally and as a predator management tool.

“These aren’t skills you can just turn off and back on again,” he said, explaining that hunters spend years learning their skills and training their dogs. He said that if the ban turns out to be a mistake and regulators try to reverse it, much of the skill set could be lost in the interim.

District 1 Supervisor Jim Cook told the Siskiyou Houndsmen, “I don’t care as much about the heritage and culture issue. Sure, that’s something you can talk about. But for me, the important part is that wildlife management by legislation is stupid. Once again, we’re back to the feel-good lack of science.”

He added that, in his opinion, bear harvests in California should be higher and numbers should be managed by zone instead of on a statewide basis as is currently the policy.

District 4 Supervisor Grace Bennet highlighted the outdoor recreational aspect of bear hunting in her comments.

“We cannot have people sitting around in front of their computers all the time,” she said. “You guys get out there and hike and run and work hard to get these bears.”

The board voted unanimously to send letters opposing the legislation and agreed to authorize sending county staff and possibly any available supervisors to Sacramento on April 24 to join the Siskiyou Houndsmen in opposing the bill.

The Siskiyou Houndsmen offered to pay the travel expenses for  county involvement in the Sacramento trip.