Bear hunting: Leash the hounds


A proposed California Senate bill to outlaw the use of dogs to hunt bears and bobcats in the state gets a hearing Tuesday before the Natural Resources and Water Committee and the dozens of supporters and opponents expected to show.

The hunting of bears and bobcats (not mountain lions) is legal but highly regulated in California. There are quotas, seasons and various limitations, such as a ban on killing cubs or mother bears with cubs in tow. The state does allow hunters to deploy dogs, often outfitted with radio telemetry devices on their collars, to track bears or bobcats. Hunting groups and American Kennel Club officials say this is a sporting, athletic endeavor for hunters and hounds alike. Animal welfare advocates, including the Humane Society of the United States, which sponsored the bill being introduced by state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), say this practice is cruel to bears and unsporting.

Allowing packs of dogs to chase bears and bobcats for miles until, exhausted, the animals climb trees to flee the canines and end up trapped and clinging to a tree limb, essentially waiting to be shot by a hunter below, is indeed a cruel practice, an animal version of “The Hunger Games.” Those bears and cats that don’t make it up a tree sometimes end up dueling with the dogs on the ground. Once an animal is treed, it’s hardly more sporting to shoot it off a branch than it is to kill it during a captive hunt — in which animals are fenced in for an organized hunt and unable to escape, a practice mostly prohibited in California.


Opponents of the bill, SB 1221, say this is just animal welfare advocates’ first step toward banning all hunting. But the bill allows hunters to use dogs to hunt birds and small mammals such as squirrels and raccoons. And, according to a committee analysis, only about 45% of bears legally killed in the state are taken with the help of dogs. Less than 20% of bobcats are killed by hunters with dogs.

Whether hunting is acceptable or not — and there are passionate views on all sides of the issue — the state sets limits to keep animal populations from being excessively hunted and to minimize cruelty to the animals. Of the 32 states that sanction bear hunting, 18 allow dogs and 14 do not. Oregon, Washington and Montana are among the states in the West that prohibit bear hunting with dogs. California should join them.