California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last week 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.
Take Andrew Gregory, owner of Deadwood Industries based in Truckee. 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 Fish and Game 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, hounds were 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.
“As an outfitter, I’m not in the business of taking people’s money,” Gregory said. “I’m there to provide a service.”
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 population estimates published by Fish and Game, 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.
Fish and Game’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 killed and 45 percent of hunters used hounds, according to Fish and Game.
Fish and Game’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 when the general deer season was open.
Fish and Game did not take a stance on the legislation, but Tahoe’s BEAR League 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,” Bryant said. “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.”
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. Brown signed the bill Wednesday, making California the 15th state to ban the practice of hounding bears. The new law will go into effect Jan. 1.
Axie Navas is a reporter for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication of The Union.