• Open Season on Hunters •
BY ANNE SOBLE
Legislative action to prevent "man's best friend" from being used as one of wildlife's worst enemies passed the state Senate this week. The California legislators voted to ban the use of dogs to hunt bears and bobcats, a practice that the bill's author says should be "likened to shooting a bear at a zoo."
SB 1221 was introduced after the president of the state Fish and Game Commission generated a media firestorm when he proudly posed for a photograph with the remains of a magnificent mountain lion he had killed during a legal hound hunt in Idaho.
The brouhaha erupted because the killing of mountain lions is prohibited in California—a law the commission is charged with upholding—and the panel head has a track record of trying to subvert state popular opinion that the agency should protect wildlife, not regard it as target practice.
It also turned out that the commissioner got into hot water with the state Fair Political Practices Commission for accepting much of the four-figure hunt tab as a gift but he rapidly paid back the money and was let off the legal hook lightly.
The use of hounds involves bait training of dogs that are incited to chase target animals until the prey is exhausted and is either cornered or climbs a tree, making it an easy shot for the hunter who often does not even have to break a sweat.
Dogs used for this purpose can be unpredictable and pose a hazard to themselves and others, much like animals brutally trained for dogfighting.
The dogs often damage target animals—especially any young that may be present—when pack frenzy takes over. The dogs also can be killed or injured, and it is not uncommon to have to put down dogs during a particularly close and intense encounter.
SB 1221 passed with a 22-15 vote, largely along political party lines. It was opposed by a number of legislators who serve as proponents for the ever-dwindling ranks of hunters in the state.
The bill now goes to the Assembly.
Hunting fees, often used as a rationale to continue state support for the practice, are also dramatically declining as the people of California recognize the importance of the role of wildlife in a healthy and well-balanced ecosystem.
Nearly two-thirds of states in the nation now ban the use of hounds to hunt bears, including a number of states where sport hunting is much more prevalent. In those states, hunting still is regarded as fair competition between man and nature.
Malibuites who support sport or trophy hunting curbs and even the ultimate reduction of the general practice are invited to let Sacramento know that it is now open season on hunters.