Dogs Banned from Use in Hunting Bears & Bobcats in Calif. Under New State Law

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

Dogs can no longer be used to hunt bears or bobcats in California under a new humane law,  SB 1221 , effective January 1, 2013. This controversial legislation was passed by the California Legislature in August 2012 and signed  by Governor Jerry Brown amidst jubilant cheers from animal advocates statewide.

SB 1221, by Democratic Senator Ted Lieu, pitted hunters against animal activists and protectors of wildlife. Supporters contend that the use of dogs in hunting bears and bobcats, called "hounding," is cruel and inhumane.

Hunters countered that the use of dogs is a valued tradition and “way of life.” Opponents also argued that the dogs used in hunts help manage the populations of bears and bobcats, which are predators that endanger livestock and increasingly threaten public safety.

SB 1221  exempts use of hounds in hunting bears or bobcats in cases of depredation, scientific research, or when protecting the owners' livestock or crops.


According to Department of Fish and Game (DFG) 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.

Opponents to the bill emphasized the potential reduction in the “steady stream of revenue to the state,” according to the, with hunting-guide operations concerned that they would be put out of business and there would be major job losses in their industry in California.

During an analysis session of SB 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.
A commenter for the timber industry brought up other issues, stating,

“Bears are also responsible for up to 90% tree death in some timber harvest plans in Del Norte and Humboldt County… Bears can reach a density of up to 5 bears per square mile and this results in a shortage of forage for the bears to eat. So, as a result of starving, they have started stripping the sugar-dense cambium of the inner layer of bark of redwood and other valuable trees.

“The timber companies are not able to keep the bear populations down enough to prevent this, even with houndsmen on staff and running dogs, not just for hunting, but for hazing bears away from trees.”

According to the black bear population estimates published by the California Department of Fish and Game, the number almost tripled between 1982 and 2010, with about 25,000 to 30,000 black bears reported in the state in 2010.

California has an estimated 70,000 bobcats and issued about 4,500 permits to hunt bobcats last year. About 11 percent of the bobcats were killed with the use of dogs, according to

Statewide Bear Coordinator Marc Kenyon of the Dept. of Fish and Game stated 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, according to the However, the DFG did not take a position on SB 1221. 

Tahoe's BEAR League in Northern California was among the most active  proponents of the Bill. The League's main issue with hounding is exactly what hunters praise — the effectiveness of the dogs in treeing game , said Executive Director Ann Bryant. 
“The practice of hounding bears is just barbaric. It's cruel, it's unsportsmanlike. 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,” Bryant added.

The Humane Society of the United States backed Senate Bill 1221, calling hounding both inhumane, unsporting and potentially disruptive to other “non-target” animals. A survey sent to voters explains:

 Some trophy hunters use packs of dogs to chase bears until they climb a tree, or until the dogs catch them on the ground. The dogs have radio collars so the hunters know where the dogs are at all times, so that is not ‘fair chase’ The dogs can be injured or killed during the hunt. Other wildlife is also killed by dogs that run loose in the woods during a bear hunt.”

California is one of only 18 states that permit the trophy hunting of bears with packs of dogs, and 14 other states have already banned hunting bears with hounds.
“The curtain will soon come down on the blood sport of ‘hounding”…Tens of thousands of citizens demanded this long-overdue animal welfare reform, and today they won it,” HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle stated in a release.
As far as hunting outfitters are c
oncerned, 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 use dogs. 
“This Bill only affects the use of hounds for bears and bobcats.," she stated.