Hunters’ rights in California took a hit on Wednesday, as the California Assembly voted 46-30 to outlaw the use of hounds to hunt bears and bobcats—a vote that further demonstrates anti-hunters’ growing influence on game management in the state.
The bill, SB 1221, now heads back to the state Senate, which originally passed the legislation in May.
The Senate must approve Assembly amendments to the bill, which carve out three exceptions in which dogs would be allowed to pursue bears or bobcats: when a depredation permit has been issued by the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG); for conducting scientific research; and when guarding or protecting livestock or crops on land owned, leased or rented by the dogs’ owner, if the dogs are maintained on that property.
The Assembly amendments also allow the California Fish and Game Commission to establish a “hound tag program,” which, if implemented, would require that hounds chasing mammals be issued a unique identification number and wear a tag implanted with a transponder. The commission would also be authorized to charge a fee to cover the cost of the program.
The impetus for SB 1221 has been a misinformation campaign waged by the Humane Society of the United States to portray hound hunting as unethical, unsporting and cruel.
Rural lawmakers countered those claims on Wednesday, saying the bill was an attack on California’s hunting heritage and the longstanding tradition of hound hunting in the state, which predates the formation of DFG in the 1870s.
“There is a broader purpose of this bill,” said Assemblyman Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber). “To erode hunting in California. This is another one of the series of bills that are intending to chip away at hunting.”
The legislation passed largely along party lines, with Democrats counting for all but two of the votes in favor of the bill. The vote also reflected California’s deepening rural-urban divide, as lawmakers from rural districts overwhelmingly opposed the bill.
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-San Bernardino) said during Assembly debate on SB 1221 that lawmakers from urban districts should not meddle in the affairs of rural residents.
Boards of supervisors from 15 rural counties have adopted resolutions opposing SB 1221, and hearings on the bill have pitted animal rights activists, many of them from Los Angeles and San Francisco, against hunters from rural communities in the Sierras where hunting—especially hound hunting—is a way of life.
“It’s intolerance run amok,” Josh Brones, president of California Houndsmen for Conservation, told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s a reflection of the changing demographics of California as it becomes increasingly urbanized and people have less appreciation for traditional lifestyles such as hunting and fishing.”
In opposing the bill, many counties pointed to the financial repercussions of SB 1221 on DFG and local economies in light of the state’s fiscal woes.
Estimates of SB 1221’s financial impacts have varied wildly.
Analyses of the bill conducted by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee, and the California Department of Finance estimate costs to DFG ranging from $130,000 to $400,000 annually.
The exact losses will be determined by how many hound hunters decide to stop buying bear and bobcat tags if hound hunting is ultimately banned—as well as any new costs incurred by DFG if harvest objectives are not reached by hunters.
According to DFG, 5,700 hound hunters purchase bear tags annually, at a cost of $42 per tag for California residents and $270 for non-residents. Hound hunters are responsible for approximately half of the state’s bear harvest each year. Bobcat tag sales bring DFG about $54,000 in annual revenue.
“While California is in the fiscal waste basket, the Legislature is preoccupied with hound dogs—absurd,” said Nielsen.
If SB 1221 again passes the Senate, it will go to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for his signature, at which point Brown will have until Sept. 30 to veto the bill or sign it into law.
NRA has opposed SB 1221 from the outset and continues to do so. It is imperative that all Californians who value the state’s hunting heritage—not to mention personal freedom—contact their state Senator and respectfully urge him or her to OPPOSE SB 1221 when it comes up for re-vote. Contact information for all Senators is available here: http://senate.ca.gov/senators.