California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill on Wednesday banning the use of dogs to hunt bears and bobcats, a move that some Tahoe residents proclaim as a major step forward to make hunting more humane. For others, it means a drastic and sudden lifestyle change.
For instance, take Andrew Gregory, owner of Deadwood Industries based in Truckee, Calif. The state-licensed company guided bear, bobcat and deer hunting expeditions in the Tahoe National Forest and the Plumas National Forest for more than a decade and used hounds to help ensure success.
"That legislation has put me out of business, and I don't have the money to sue the state of California. The father of my two kids is out of work, and no one seemed to listen," Gregory said. "In these hard economic times, why are we putting people out of work?"
Hunting brings a steady stream of revenue to the state, and Gregory is worried that flow could be dammed if hunters can no longer use their dogs. According to Department of Fish and Game data, the state received almost $1 million in 2010 from resident bear tag application fees, about half of which came from hunters who used dogs.
During an analysis session of Senate bill 1221 in May, the Senate committee estimated that the DFG could lose up to $265,000 annually because of the bill. The document did not mention job loss associated with the new legislation.
For Gregory, hound-hunting was the backbone of his business. There might not be guarantees when it comes to hunting, but for the outfitter, the practice represented the best chance of success for his clients.
"Hound-hunting is the most effective way. As an outfitter, I'm not in the business of taking people's money. I'm there to provide a service," Gregory said.
It was a way to manage the ever-increasing bear population that has caused altercations between the animals and people especially in dense, forested areas like Tahoe, he said. According to the black bear population estimates published by the DFG, the number of black bears almost tripled between 1982 and 2010, with about 25,000 to 30,000 black bears reported in the state two years ago.
DFG's Statewide Bear Coordinator Marc Kenyon said that the growth trend has continued, but the newest data was not available on the department's website.
Kenyon said that hound-hunting is the most efficient way to bring in game and, when managed properly, can be a successful strategy to control a bear population.
Bear-hunting season closes either on the last Sunday in December or when 1,700 bears are reported as killed. In 2010, when 1,503 bears were harvested, 45 percent of hunters used hounds on the hunt, according to DFG statistics. The DFG's previous bear management plan from 1998 restricted the use of dogs to the general hunting season - hounds were forbidden during the bear archery season that starts in late August - and could only use one dog per hunter where the general deer season was open.
"The current strategy is providing for an increasing bear population, which has been growing since the 1980s. Hound-hunting has a place in management when it's incorporated into a hunting regime properly and it can increase the amount of take if that's the goal," Kenyon said.
The DFG did not take a stance on the legislation, but Tahoe's BEAR League certainly did. The league came out swinging to get the bill passed, with members traveling to meetings in Sacramento to testify against hound-hunting, and making numerous calls to promote the bill, Executive Director Ann Bryant said.
Their main issue with hounding is exactly what Gregory praised - the effectiveness of the dogs in treeing game.
"The practice of hounding bears is just barbaric. It's cruel, it's unsportsmanlike," Bryant said.
"It's not fair chase. I'm not anti-hunting, but if you're going to hunt it needs to be fair. It's man against the beast. He doesn't bring a pack of dogs or high-tech GPS. It's not slaughter, and that's what hounding is," she said.
The Humane Society of the United States, an organization devoted to animal rights, backed Senate Bill 1221, calling hounding both inhumane, unsporting and potentially disruptive to other "non-target" animals.
"The curtain will soon come down on the bloodsport of 'hounding.' It is the right policy for California. Tens of thousands of citizens demanded this long-overdue animal welfare reform, and today they won it," HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle said in a release.
As far as hunting outfitters are concerned, HSUS California Senior State Director Jennifer Fearing said potential job loss didn't feature prominently in the arguments against the bill. Hounds can still be used to hunt other game animals, and not all guided hunts used dogs, she said.
"Hunting guide operations in California are pretty diverse. This bill only effects the use of hounds for bears and bobcats. I don't acknowledge that there is a direct business impact with the hunting ban on those two species," Fearing said.
The Senate voted 22-15 in late May to pass the bill introduced by democratic Sen. Ted Lieu. The Assembly approved the bill, which makes exceptions for the use of hounds on depredation hunts, in August. It moved on to Brown's desk where it sat for almost a month before the governor signed it on Wednesday, making California the 15th state to ban the practice of hounding bears. The deadline for his signature was Sunday, Sept. 30. The new law will go into effect Jan. 1, 2013.