California bill would ban hunters' use of dogs to tree bears

Fresno, Calif. (AP) – A decades-old fight is brewing again over legislation to ban the use of dog packs to chase bears and bobcats up trees so a hunter can kill them.

The latest measure, scheduled for a Senate committee hearing next week, comes after the state's top fish and game official was criticized this year for a hound-hunting trip Idaho.

Dan Richards shot a mountain lion that had been chased up a tree. A photo of him with the dead cougar was printed in a hunting publication.

Many were outraged because mountain lions are a protected species in California, but Richards maintained that he violated no hunting laws in Idaho.

Opponents of dog packs for hunting say the practice is unsportsmanlike because the targeted animal has little chance of eluding the hunter no matter how far it runs.

The California Houndsmen for Conservation, the state's leading hound-hunting group, decried the measure, which is being pushed by the Humane Society of the United States.

"This bill has no merit, is founded on misconceptions that are promoted with propaganda'' and is not something lawmakers should spend time on, group president Josh Brones wrote in an email.

The bill's co-author said Richards' hunting trip helped revive the issue for him.

"I actually thought that this inhumane practice would have been banned in California already, like it is in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and other pro-hunting states,'' Sen. Ted Lieu said.

"It's completely unnecessary,'' he added.

The bill was co-authored by Sen. Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat. Gov. Jerry Brown hasn't weighed in, but Lieu said he believes he has support in the Democrat-majority committee.

It's not the first time such a bill has been floated in the California legislature, but on two previous tries it didn't advance past the committee.

Fourteen other states have similar prohibitions. The California bill would still allow hound hunting for other animals, including wild boar.

Less than 1 percent of California's 36 million residents own hunting licenses, and it wasn't immediately clear how many of them are hound hunters. A question posed to Brones about the number of hound hunters was not immediately answered.

Brones said the bill was “political retaliation'' over legislators' inability to oust Richards, a Republican real estate developer appointed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Forty Assembly members signed letters asking for Richards' resignation. Lieu and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom also wrote letters asking for his ouster. Richards' term expires in January.

The state's Fair Political Practices Commission said he violated the state's gift limit by accepting the $6,800 trip. He repaid the money after the legal deadline.

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