State law bans hunting bears, bobcats with dogs
SACRAMENTO — Hunters in California will no longer be able to use dogs to hunt bears and bobcats under one of several bills Gov. Jerry Brown announced signing Wednesday that relate to the state Department of Fish and Game.
Brown's signature drew a disappointed, but unsurprised reaction from Yuba County, where supervisors had sent the governor a letter opposing the bill as "overreaching and misdirected."
"The board really wanted to see this defeated," said county spokesman Russ Brown. "They believed it was an infringement on a long-standing form of recreation."
Sutter County supervisors also sent a letter opposing the bill.
Another bill signed Wednesday changes the composition of the California Fish and Game Commission in the wake of a controversy over the former commission president's killing of a mountain lion in Idaho. A third bill lets the department contract with nonprofit conservation groups to manage state-owned lands.
SB 1221 by Democratic Sen. Ted Lieu of Torrance, which takes effect Jan. 1, allows the use of dogs to track nuisance animals, for research or if a wild animal enters a dog owner's property. But the general hunting of bears and bobcats with hounds will be prohibited.
"There is nothing sporting in shooting an exhausted bear clinging to a tree limb or a cornered bobcat," Lieu said in a statement noting that hound hunting of bears is illegal in two-thirds of the United States.
The bill was backed by the Humane Society of the United States but opposed by most hunting and shooting associations, as well as Republican lawmakers.
Between 1,500 and 1,800 black bears are killed by hunters each year in California, with less than half tracked with dogs, according to state wildlife officials. The state's black bear population is estimated at about 30,000, up from about 10,000 in the 1980s.
California has an estimated 70,000 bobcats and issued about 4,500 tags to hunt bobcats last year. About 11 percent of the bobcats were killed with the use of dogs.
Opponents said the bill will end a hunting tradition that dates back hundreds of years. Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said the ban could infringe on hunters' tradition and culture while costing the cash-strapped state $278,000 annually from reduced bear and bobcat hunting tags.
He said he received thousands of calls and letters upset that the bill would infringe on tradition.
"I share their concerns, and I am deeply disappointed that the governor has chosen to sign this into law," Nielsen said in a statement.
Yuba County's Brown said there will also be an impact on the local economy from hunters who won't go to the county's foothills anymore for such hunts.
"We've said all along this was just another chip at the county in its ability to self govern," he said.
The governor also signed AB2609, which was approved by lawmakers after the commission's former president, Dan Richards, posed for photos with a mountain lion he shot during a legal hunt in Idaho. Killing mountain lions is illegal in California.
The bill by Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, ends the commission's tradition of appointing its most senior member as president. Instead, the president and vice president will be selected by a majority of the five commissioners and can serve no more than two consecutive years in those leadership posts.
The bill also encourages the governor and the Senate Rules Committee to consider an appointee's background in natural resource management, public policy and a scientific discipline and whether the commission is diverse enough before they make appointments.
Republicans said the bill was drafted to retaliate against Richards. Democrats said the incident merely pointed out the need to change the makeup of the commission.
Brown also approved SB1249 by Senator Lois Wolk, D-Davis, which lets the state Department of Fish and Game contract with nonprofit conservation groups to manage state-owned lands and charge fees for using more of its properties.
Currently, the department charges fees at only 19 of its 711 properties, bringing in about $2.5 million annually. The figure does not include money from hunting and fishing licenses that helps cover the department's management costs.
Charging visitors to use other areas could raise up to $2.2 million annually by also collecting money from birdwatchers, hikers and campers, according to supporters of the Wolk bill.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Ben van der Meer contributed to this report.