Last week, California Governor, Edmund “Jerry” Brown signed Senate Bill 1221 to outlaw the traditional hunting of bears and bobcats with hounds. Effective Jan. 1, 2013, the new law will ban any hunting of bears or bobcats by using hounds. The Bill was authored by Senator Ted Lieu of Torrance, California, at the request of The Humane Society of the United States. Supporting groups include the ASPCA, Sierra Club, and numerous anti-hunting groups. Opponents of the bill include: The California Cattleman’s Association, The California Farm Bureau, Safari Club International, California Outdoor Heritage Alliance, California Houndsmen for Conservation, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. In the days approaching the committee vote Assembly members were swamped with calls and demonstrations on both sides. Assembly Members Bill Berryhill, Beth Gaines, and Kristin Olsen were vocal in their opposition to the hunting ban.
Breaking tradition seems to be something of a trademark of Governor Brown, who had gained notoriety in the 1970s as “Governor Moonbeam,” the Governor who drove a used Plymouth pool car instead of riding in a chauffeured limo. Little known these days, for over 100 years California had a traditional “Governors Trail Ride” in which every governor in living memory rode into the back country on horseback with leaders of the fishing and hunting community for several days each year. I still recall camping at “Governors Camp” where Jerry Brown’s father Edmund G. “Pat” Brown stayed when he participated in the annual trail ride. Of course, Pat Brown’s successor Ronald Reagan truly loved riding and thoroughly enjoyed the annual trail ride. Even city dudes like former Governor George Deukmejian participated in the old tradition. Then Governor Moonbeam came along and the Governors Trail Ride was abandoned. If actions speak louder than words, then Governor Jerry Brown has proven himself to be the worst enemy of our state’s outdoorsmen.
Since the ban takes effect in 2013, the 2012 bear season will not be affected. The bear season this year will still allow for the take of approximately 1700 bears out of an estimated population of between 25,000 and 30,000 total animals statewide. That means that the annual bear harvest was just less than 6 percent of the bear population, leaving over 90 percent to breed in future years. For decades our bear population has been managed scientifically by wildlife experts who considered the health of the state’s bear population. Every successful bear hunter had to take his bear to a Department of Fish & Game employee who would then remove a molar from the bear’s jaw. Very much like tree ring dating, the bear molars gave D.F.G. scientific insight into the age and health of the bears. After the extracted teeth had been analyzed, each hunter would get a report back from DFG telling him about the results of the study. With the signing of the new ban by Governor Brown, all that scientific information is no longer available, and DFG is operating blind.
With no more scientifically controlled harvesting of bears, it is likely that bear/human conflicts will increase as bear populations rise beyond the ability of the habitat to support them. It is amazing how much damage a bear can cause in an apple or cherry orchard. Hunters used to keep such damage to a minimum. In other states that have enacted similar bans, such as Oregon, problem bears are now shot by hunters paid by taxpayers. Where bear hunting citizens used to generate income via bear tag sales, now there will be added financial burdens in a state that has a budget shortfall in the billions.
Governor Brown’s signature marks the end of a tradition of bear hunting with hounds that is older than the United States itself. Our country’s founders like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison all had kennels for hounds. To this day the region is known as “The Hunt Country” as a tribute to the tradition of hunting with hounds that continues there today. I suspect that some of our founding fathers might turn over in their graves if they were to learn what the California Legislature and Governor have done.
I began bear hunting as a teenager in the 1960s, a generation later, I watched my son get his first bear, and had hoped to see my grandchildren get their first bear too. While I still hope to get a bear this fall with my son-in-law, it looks as though the government has denied me the chance to take my grandchildren out into the hills to follow the cry of the hounds. My Governor has taken away a family tradition that is centuries old and it looks as though there is nothing anyone can do to stop him. I will remember that on Election Day.
Don Moyer is a longtime Central Valley resident and avid outdoorsman. He contributes occasional columns.