Fight erupts over hunters? right to use dogs

The Senate approved SB1221 Monday to ban the use of dogs in bear and bobcat hunts
By: Justin A. Lawson Journal Staff Writer
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For most people, the Disney classic ?The Fox and The Hound? is the only example they know of using hounds to hunt animals. But while the cute story may entertain children, the practice of using hounds to track down bears and bobcats have roiled into an all-out war. The conflict has nearly reached an end after the state Senate voted Monday to ban the use of dogs in bear and bobcat hunts, but houndsmen aren?t going down in a whimper. ?Our dogs are our pride and joy and I think one of the worst stereotypes they paint of us is abusing our dogs,? said Dan Tichenor, a member of the board directors for the California Houndsmen for Conservation. ?We?re in for dogs, we?re dog people if all else and we?re proud of them.? The Humane Society of the United States was the sponsor of SB1221, which passed the Senate vote 22-15 and will head to the Assembly. The Humane Society cited numerous examples of hounds being left in the woods alone, mauled by bears or bobcats and even a bear being chased to the edge of Redding city limits where it had to be euthanized because of injuries sustained by the dogs. ?It?s a long-held concern of the Humane Society of the United States that the hounding of bears and bobcats is inhumane,? said Jennifer Fearing, the California senior state director of the HSUS. ?It?s unsporting and it?s unethical, and more importantly, it?s unnecessary.? But the argument for or against the use of hounds goes much deeper. Impact of hound hunts Hound hunting is a tradition that goes back to at least 16th century Britain and followed settlers to the colonies. A pack of dogs tracks the scent of the bear, bobcat, mountain lion or other big-game predator, and chases the animal up a tree. They keep the prey there until the hunter arrives where they can shoot the animal or walk away. Currently, nine states allow the practice while 14 have banned the use of dogs in bear hunts. Nevada, which opened bear season up for the first time last year, recently joined the list of states that allow the use of hounds. Montana doesn?t allow the use of hounds but that is largely because of their high population of grizzly bears, which because of their aggressive nature don?t climb trees when chased by dogs like brown and black bears. Oregon banned hound hunts in 1994, but has since seen a number of bills come through in an effort to reverse the ban. Bear hunts had gone from a 41 percent success rate prior to the ban to less than 1 percent as complaints of nuisance bears rose. Washington now allows the use of dogs on a county-by-county basis. In California, about 45 percent of successful bear hunts are done so with dogs, according to the California Department of Fish and Game. Placer County accounts for just 2.2 percent of all successful bear hunts, while Siskiyou County, near the California-Oregon border, makes up 11.1 percent. But the word success is defined differently for the CFG and houndsmen, which often times use a catch-and-release method similar to fishing. ?I?ve taken guests many times, non-hunting guests, on catch-and-release hunts and that?s the way that we hunt most of the time,? said Tichenor. ?You tree the animal, take pictures, lead the dogs away, the animal comes down and runs away into the woods. ?Nobody would ever describe what they saw the way they (HSUS) do? And if that were true, why would the scientific community be using them and have been for a half century in research?? Tichenor has maintained records of his bear hunts over the last 30 years and said he has killed 60 bears, mostly on hunts with friends or family, but has treed 259. He has also used his dogs in scientific research trips for UC Santa Cruz in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which helps determine population numbers, among other things, of mountain lions. The CFG uses the same practice. Patrick Foy, a warden for the CFG based in Placer County, has been on six such trips and calls them grueling. ?If you?ve ever gone on a hound hunt, typically the hounds don?t tree bears 50 feet from the road,? Foy said. ?Typically, they book across a canyon a mile away with two ridges in between and a river and that?s where the hounds end up with the bear. ?I personally have had an exhausting day, some of the most exhausting days of my career, have been working with hound dogs because you?ve got to follow them. You?ve got to go where the hounds go and it?s not easy to keep up with them.? Humane treatment In a letter to Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, who authored the bill, the Haven Humane Society in Redding wrote of a time that a bear had been chased to the edge of city limits by houndsmen, who left the bear after they realized they were in city limits. The Humane Society came out to tranquilize the bear but after seeing a rash of dog bites on the bear elected to euthanize it. Proponents of the bill have harshly criticized the use of hounds in these hunts. "It's been likened to shooting a bear at a zoo," said Lieu in an Associated Press story. "It's simply not fair." The dogs themselves are at a great risk when chasing down a 350-pound animal with enormous claws and razor-sharp teeth. There have been cases in which dogs have been found on trails with deep gashes or suffering from starvation after being separated from the pack, Fearing said. ?The hounds themselves, the way they are kept and the risks that they are put at when they are in pursuit, which range from getting injured, abandoned, lost, mauled, killed,? she said. ?All of those are serious concerns for the welfare of dogs.? The use of hound dogs was thrust into the limelight after the president of the California Fish and Game Commission, Dan Richards, posed with a mountain lion he killed during a hunt in Idaho with the help of dogs. While it is legal to kill mountain lions in Idaho, the practice is illegal in California. One sticking point the HSUS cites is the use of radio collars. Hunters outfit their dogs with radio telemetry collars, which are used for recovery of the dogs. The collars are not global positioning systems, which are illegal to use in the state for hunting purposes. What?s at stake? Bear hunting is limited to a harvest of 1,700 bears each year and brings in about $400,000 a year. The money could obviously be of use in a state that is in an estimated $15.7 billon deficit. Without the use of dogs, the success of hunting bears would decrease, the CHC contended, which would mean an increase in the bear population and nuisance bears that are derogated. ?Where there?s large populations it is the normal practice to use trail hounds to manage them,? Tichenor said. Bears aren?t a problem in the Auburn area but wreak havoc around Lake Tahoe. While many wildlife agencies contend that hunting does limit overpopulation of some animals, some scientists don?t agree. In a letter to Sen. Lieu on behalf of HSUS, Dr. Rick Hopkins, principal and senior conservation biologist for the ecological consulting firm Fallen Oak Associates, wrote: ?Predator populations are usually limited by the availability of food resources and the spatial extent and connectedness of the landscape, that is, they are largely self-regulating.? Added Fearing: ?The use of hounds is a values question only. It?s a question of if we think it?s ethical, inhumane or sporting to allow this method of take because there really is not (any other reason). It?s a straw man to think that there are any other concerns we need to take into consideration.? If the ban passes in the Assembly, it would move on to the governor for final approval. It would also mark the end of a practice that has become a lifestyle for many houndsmen, who pay on average $1,600 for the dogs themselves and countless hours in training to prepare their dogs for the hunt. ?If I took my dog out to a dog park and let him run around with the other dogs nobody would be able to tell which one trees mountain lions and bears,? Tichenor said.