The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is trumpeting what it calls a “shocking” number of wildlife crimes in California and advancing it as a reason to ban the use of dogs for hunting black bears and bobcats in the state.
HSUS announced on Tuesday that it performed a “news analysis” of California Fish and Game reports to document the extent of poaching caused by hunters who use hounds. According to HSUS, they found more than 500 cases of illegal hounding and bear and bobcat poaching between 2007 and 2012 in California.
Some of the “incidents” in this report include law enforcement notes like, “Hound dog bear hunters worked undercover—no illegal take so released.” Or , “Just a report of bear baiting. No evidence—surveillance is continuing.” Many of the incidents in the report did not involve dogs at all, and still others were simply responses to residents’ calls, without arrest or citation.
In 2009, the midpoint of HSUS’s “analysis,” California had 293,263 licensed hunters. For comparison, during the years examined in the report, the state averaged approximately 100 incidents annually involving hounds, bears, bobcats or some combination thereof, which equates to roughly one incident per every 2,932 hunters.
It is worth repeating that fewer than half of the incidents in the report involved violations by bear and bobcat houndsmen. Yet, HSUS has taken the report, which consists largely of general hunting and poaching violations, and spun it into a smear campaign against all houndsmen. As Jennifer Fearing, HSUS’s California senior state director, put it, “These reports reveal the shocking lawlessness associated with hounding.”
Poaching, for the record, is deplorable. While HSUS has clearly taken a legitimate law enforcement report and mischaracterized it to advance their anti-hunting agenda, true poaching still makes all hunters look bad. Whatever the real extent of poaching is in California, maybe what’s needed is more game wardens—or more resources for the ones they have. But instead of looking for an actual solution, HSUS’s answer is just to ban everyone from using hounds to hunt bears and bobcats.
The use of hounds for hunting has never been shown to have an adverse impact on wildlife numbers. Regulations and bag limits set by biologists and wildlife experts apply to houndsmen the same as they do all hunters.
As has been proven for generations, the typical American hunter follows every one of the myriad laws that regulate hunting (no matter how nit-picking or unrelated to game management). The overwhelming majority of houndsmen are law-abiding, ethical hunters who treat both their dogs and their quarry with utmost respect. Banning the use of dogs because a fractional minority of people break the rules is like banning all driving because sometimes people run stop signs.
Of course, banning the use of dogs is not HSUS’s real goal; it’s just one step toward their actual mission of ending all hunting, whenever and wherever they can. HSUS leader Wayne Pacelle proved that when he recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that if the hounding ban fails in the legislature, HSUS will launch a ballot initiative for November 2014 to ban all bear and bobcat hunting in the state, with or without hounds. He added, “For that kind of investment, that kind of campaign, you might as well include all bear and bobcat hunting.”
The HSUS “analysis” of course fails to point out that hounds are commonly used by wildlife biologists and researchers with universities and game and fish departments, who collect data to maintain strong, healthy bear populations. And given California’s expanding bear numbers—which have nearly quadrupled in the last 30 years—efficient methods of hunting are crucial to meeting wildlife management goals. Nearly half of the 1,500 bears California hunters took in 2010 were hunted with dogs. Statewide, the bear population is almost 40,000.
In fact, the California Fish and Game Department has tried twice in the last several years to initiate bear hunting in San Luis Obispo County and to raise the bear hunt quota throughout the state. Wildlife science supported these moves, but they were stymied after opposition from HSUS and other anti-hunting groups.
SB 1221, an HSUS-sponsored bill that would ban hounds for bear and bobcat hunting, passed the California Senate in May and will be taken up by the State Assembly this month. Not only is the bill bad for hunting and wildlife management, the timing of its introduction was clearly designed to capitalize on the furor over a perfectly legal mountain lion hunt taken by California Fish and Game Commission President Dan Richards, who used dogs. When a photo of Richards and his lion surfaced on the Internet, HSUS led a charge calling for his resignation, which many Democrats in the state legislature supported. But Richards, backed by NRA and sportsmen’s groups, courageously stood his ground and for now remains as commission president.
The vengeful measure that would ban hound hunting came shortly after it became clear Richards would not resign.
This battle warrants close watching and sportsmen’s voices need to be heard. HSUS and other animal rights groups have clearly made progress influencing hunting policy and game management in California despite sound wildlife science that actually considers what the bear population needs—something HSUS would do well to “analyze.”