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.
Photo by Justin Shoemaker / courtesy USFWS Mountain-Prairie
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.