SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A new California law banning the use of dogs in bear hunting appears to have had a dramatic effect, with fewer bears killed by hunters in 2013 than in any other year over the past two decades.
Hunters killed 1,002 bears in California in 2013, a 48 percent decline from the number killed in 2012, according to the Sacramento Bee.
California has about 33,000 bears, which are both a symbol of the state's rugged past and a nuisance and danger to people in more rural areas. As development pushes further out into the countryside, some worry that an increase in bear population will create a public safety problem.
People who supported the ban on hunting dogs said the practice was unsportsmanlike, and gave hunters an unfair advantage over bears.
But opponents of the law said hounding helped hunters control the bear population and resulted in fewer attacks on people.
Both sides agree that the ban on dogs resulted in the steep decline in bears killed.
Jesse Garcia, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said hunters who enjoy hounding "didn't bother" hunting this year.
Without hounds to find and either corner or tree a bear, finding and killing them is much more difficult.
"If you are just up there walking and driving, the chances of seeing a bear are slim to none," Lori Jacobs, president of California Houndsmen for Conservation, told the Bee. Jacobs said neither she nor many of her group's 1,000 members hunted bear this year because of the ban.
Jacobs believes the decline in hunting will cause problems.
"The black-bear population in California is already out of control," she said.
But the law's proponents say hunters often kill bears far away from population centers, meaning hunting's impact on the overall population is not significant.
State wildlife officials say the best way to protect against bears is to secure your trash so the animals cannot get at human food.
Jacobs said her group is working to get a bill introduced that would overturn the ban and will use the new data to help argue that the dog ban is endangering public safety.
Information from: The Sacramento Bee, www.sacbee.com