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California’s Ban on Hounding of Bears Is A Response to State Official’s Idaho Cougar Hunt

State passes a slew of animal protection laws, two of which hold CA wildlife officials to higher standards

During the last week of September, right before the California State Assembly went into recess for the year, Governor Jerry Brown signed a flurry of bills that strengthen wildlife and animal protection in the state.

cougar Photo by Justin Shoemaker / courtesy USFWS Mountain-PrairieFormer Fish and Game Commission president Dan Richards' infamous Idaho hunt, where he shot a
mountain lion trapped in a tree, gave added impetus to several state wildlife law reforms this year.

One of these, Senate Bill 1221, prohibits the “hounding” of bears and bobcats — the cruel and archaic practice of using packs of dogs to chase animals up trees and then shooting them.

I was chuffed to learn that the bill was inspired by former state Fish and Game Commission president Dan Richards’ controversial mountain lion trophy hunt in Idaho.

In case you missed it, Richards went on a guided hunt in northern Idaho last winter where, with the help of trackers and a pack of dogs, he chased a mountain lion up a tree and shot it. He then gave a photo of himself holding up the cougar’s body to Western Outdoor News (click link and scroll down to see the photo), a sportsmens magazine, that ran the picture with a caption that quoted Richards’ saying he was “glad” hunting mountain lions was legal in Idaho. Shooting a mountain lion is banned in California. It was especially egregious of Richards’ to kill one for fun while representing a state that bans the activity.

During the uproar that followed the news of Richards’ action, widely publicized by the Humane Society of United States, and his subsequent belligerent refusal to step down (he called his critics "enviro-terrorists"), state Senator Ted Lieu introduced SB 1221. Now California is the fifteenth state in the US to prohibit the hounding of bears — the legacy of a man who would rather have had it otherwise. Sometimes the cookie crumbles in strange ways.

(Richards was finally ousted as president by a unanimous vote by commission members in August, six months before the commission was slated to elect a new leader. He plans to remain on the commission as a member until his term expires in January.)

"The ban is a good start, but it's not what I would like, I would like all hunting of top predators to stop," says Spencer Lennard of Earth Island project Big Wildlife, that pushed for the ban. "These species are not doing well. Despite what some people are saying, our research shows that our top predators are getting weaker and their numbers are actually declining."

Of the five other bills that Governor Brown signed into law, two bring in much needed changes within the Fish and Game Commission and ensures that the persons leading this department reflect Californians' well-known concern for their wildlife and environment.

AB 2402, among other things, seeks to improve the department’s use of independent science, increase transparency and accountability, and — this one’s more symbolic but very important — changes the name of the Department of Fish and Game to the "Department of Fish and Wildlife" (emphasis added). The name change, that downplays hunting, rightly reflects the department’s transition over the years from an agency that mostly serves hunters to one that has a broader mission of wildlife conservation.

AB 2609 holds public officials overseeing California’s wildlife to higher standards. The new law, that like AB 2402 is based on recommendations from the California Fish and Wildlife Vision effort, requires that members of the Fish and Game/Wildlife Commission have wildlife backgrounds and sets new processes and ethical standards for the commission and its appointed members. (Richards had no wildlife conservation/research credentials. He was an avid hunter and belonged to several hunting groups.)

Other bills that Gov. Brown signed into law include, SB 1229, that prohibits landlords from requiring renters to declaw their cats or devocalize their dogs; SB 1500, that improves the handling process for animals seized in cruelty and neglect cases —the bill will reduce lengthy, expensive, and unnecessary detainment of animals held as evidence in criminal cases; and AB 1776 that names the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle the official marine reptile of California.

All in all, it’s been a good year for animals in California. But, as always, there’s more to be done. Brown did, after all, veto SB 1480 that sought to restrict inhumane animal trapping practices in the state, and hound hunting does continue to be the norm in 17 other states.  

As Camilla Fox, director of Earth Island Institute’s Project Coyote notes:  “While we should all be elated at these hard fought wildlife victories, the sad reality is that a least 17 states still allow hound hunting of wildlife and the brutal practice of “penning” where coyotes and foxes in fenced enclosures are used as live bait to train hunting dog. And Wisconsin is proposing hound hunting of wolves even when the estimated state population is less than 850.”

The struggle to protect our fellow creatures from our own predatory instincts continues.

Maureen Nandini Mitra, Editor, Earth Island Journal.Maureen Nandini Mitra photo
In addition to her work at the Journal, Maureen writes for several other magazines and online publications in the US and India. A journalism graduate from Columbia University, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Public Press, The New Internationalist, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, The Caravan and Down to Earth.

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And a P.S. -

Want to make a difference?  Commissioner Jim Kellogg’s unfortunate reappointment to the Fish & Game Commission must be approved by the five-member Senate Rules Committee chaired by Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).  Other members are Kevin de Leon (D-L.A.) and Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield).  Termed-out members Elaine Alquist and Bob Huff will be replaced after the November election.

Write to Gov. Jerry Brown and ask him to rescind the Kellogg nomination, and to appoint some truly QUALIFIED people to the commission.  (NOTE:  Commissioner Richard Rogers’ term expired months ago.)  Time for some new faces.  Some biologists and maybe a former game warden would be nice.  In the Commission’s 150 years, there have been only TWO women appointed, and only ONE minority member, to my knowledge.  This must change.

It should be further noted that Kellogg’s appointment has been opposed by the Sierra Club, NRDC, Defenders of Wildlife, Surfrider Foundation, California Coastkeeper Alliance,The Ocean Conservancy, Heal the Bay, the Humane Society of the U.S., and others.  Please write!  Those letters DO make a difference.  (How about YOU, Earth Island Institute?)

The Governor, Senator Steinberg and all legislators may be written c/o The State Capitol, Sacramento, Ca 95814.

Eric Mills, coordinator

By Eric Mills on Wed, October 10, 2012 at 11:08 pm

SB 1221 (hounding of bears & bobcats) is a hollow victory, in my opinion.  1600 bears and 1200 bobcats will still be killed every year, with or without the use of dogs.  And what’s to become of the estimated 22,000 hunting hounds, pray?  I’m betting that the majority will be shot, loosed in the woods, or dumped at our already-overcrowded shelters, where most will be euthanized.  Hounds are not good prospects for house pets.

I recently spoke with Josh Brones (California Houndsmen for Conservation), who told me that many of the dogs would be re-trained to hunt gray fox and raccoon.  I doubt that these two species are happy at the news.  So are we simply trading one bunch of dead animals for another?  I would hardly call this “progress.”  And the “fair chase” argument rings false. You think the bears and bobcats care?  They’re no less dead.  And how many gut-shot bears will be left in the woods to suffer a lingering death?  How many hunters will pursue such a bear into deep cover without the use of dogs?  This legislation was not well thought-out.

I was hoping that the Gov would veto SB 1221, and that HSUS (with millions in the bank) would then do a state ballot initiative to stop ALL sport hunting of bears, bobcats and other apex predators. And I think it would pass.  Don’t forget that Prop. 2 passed with 63% of the vote, and more people care about fuzzy bears and bobcats than do about chickens, I think.

Just for the record, Commissioner Dan Richards was a big improvement over current F&G Commissioner Jim Kellogg.  I’ve been attending commission meetings for 25+ years.  Richards was invariably well-informed, willing to listen to all sides, honest and outspoken—qualities not always shared by his colleagues.  His perfectly-legal mountain lion hunt in Idaho should have had NO bearing on his commission duties here in California.  His demotion was little more than a politically-motivated witchhunt.

Kellogg was recently re-appointed to the commission by Gov. Brown.  His qualifications?  According to the 8/2/10 SANTA ROSA PRESS DEMOCRAT, his plumbers union gave Jerry Brown $100,000; the State Democratic Party $500,000; and a cool 1.023 MILLION to the Gray Davis re-call campaign.  The best commission that money can buy, apparently.  Ain’t politics grand?

Jim Kellogg continues to claim that spent lead shot in the environment is not a problem for either condors or other wildlife; supports the use of the highly-unethical “roboduck” decoys; and recently declared the invasive striped bass to be “a California native.”  The mind boggle.

And this:  Mr. Kellogg was absent from the last week’s commission meeting in Sacramento, when the proposal for Endangered Species protection for the gray wolf was on the agenda.  And where was Mr. Kellogg?  According to the CONTRA COSTA TIMES, off hunting deer and elk in Nevada, Montana & Canada.

So could someone please tell me again why SB 1221 is such a big victory?  Am I missing something here?


Eric Mills, coordinator
  email -

By Eric Mills on Wed, October 10, 2012 at 6:23 pm

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