A California ban on the use of hounds in bear hunting had a dramatic impact this past year -- the number of bears killed fell sharply. This follows a heated battle in the state legislature between hunters and animal rights activists.
The I-Team first investigated hounds used to hunt bears in 2012, before the law took effect, so we went back over the past week to talk to some of the key figures in the controversy to get their take on the big impact of the ban on hounds.
State Sen. Ted Lieu, D- Torrance, sponsored Bill 12-21 to ban the use of hounds in bear hunting.
"It caused harm to the dogs, sometimes the dogs would get in fights and get killed. Sometimes they would get injured. It was inhumane to bears and it was unsporting," said Lieu.
Before the law took effect, hunters could equip packs of dogs with electronic tracking devices. When the hounds chased a bear up a tree, the hunter could come in for the easy kill.
During the past year, the hound ban slashed the number of bears killed by almost half -- down from 1,962 killed in 2012 to 1,002 last year.
"I'm pleased the law is working as intended and that people are complying with the law," said Lieu.
"These darkened-colored zones are the approved bear hunt zones in California," said Jesse Garcia, the head of California Department of Fish and Wildlife's bear program. He says the number of hunting permits or "bear tags" sold was unaffected by the ban on hounds. "We've had actually almost the same amount of bear tags sold this year, but either the same number of bear hunters were incredibly unsuccessful or less hunters turned out."
"Our morale is pretty low, I'll be frank with you," said Dan Tichenor from the California Houndsmen for Conservation.
Tichenor fought the ban and told us he can find a bear in a day or two using his hounds. But, without them, it takes four or five days. He says, because of the ban, many of the state's hunters are getting rid of their dogs.
"A lot of guys have sold their hounds or given them away to states where you can take them in the field just because they wanted their dogs to live out their lives in the field," said Tichenor.
Tichenor blames former Fish and Game Commission president Dan Richards for the hound ban. A photo from 2012 of Richards with a mountain lion he shot, using hounds in Idaho, got Lieu's attention and led him to sponsor the ban on hound hunts here.
"California is a leader in terms of the things that we do here and other states do follow what we do. But in this case we were just trying to follow what other states have done. To me, being humane is one of the principals we should have in our society," said Lieu.
Hunters had such a hard time finding bears without the use of hounds last year that Fish and Wildlife is considering extending the season so they can reach the quota of 1,700 kills. They claim they are concerned about more bears interacting with people. But, animal rights activists tell me that's a false argument -- that most of the bears are killed in remote areas, far away from people.