Sierra Club: We Support Hunting But...

In recent years The Sierra Club, the nation's largest environmental membership organization, has gone to great lengths to appear supportive of hunting, fishing and scientific wildlife management in an attempt to distance itself from more recognizable--and radical--anti-hunting organizations.

It's now a supporting member of a national professional organization of hunting and fishing writers and features biographies of its "conservation leaders" who hunt and fish on its Web site.

The Sierra Club's official policy on hunting reads, in part: "Acceptable management approaches include both regulated periodic hunting and fishing when based on sufficient scientifically valid biological data and when consistent with all other management purposes and when necessary (for) total protection of particular species or populations."

Is it just me, or does that still leave a lot of wiggle room?

I offer as a case in point, this week's statement from the Sierra Club opposing a California Department of Fish and Game proposal to expand bear hunting and the use of hounds in The Golden State.

The proposal, made public in January, would expand bear hunting with hounds beyond Tuolumne and Calaveras counties and would allow use of GPS tracking collars fitted with tip switches that indicate when an animal is treed. It would also increase the annual bear harvest from 1,700 to 2,500 and lengthen the season statewide.

The reason for the changes put forth by the state agency is simple: there are too many bears and more need to be killed.

This week's Sierra Club press release claims the rule changes will lead to increased bear poaching, among other things.

"We strongly oppose uncontrolled hounding of bears, a practice which results in gruesome injuries to bears and dogs," states the press release. "The use of dogs to hunt bears is the favored method of bear poachers."

Richard J. Garcia, who chairs the Sierra Club's Black Bear Task Force, stresses that the organization doesn't oppose bear hunting, just the use of hounds and tracking collars. He told the Sonora Union Democrat this week that the Sierra Club contends that forcing dogs and bears into "violent interactions" violates animal cruelty laws.

"If you're going to kill our bears, do it humanely," Garcia said. "We're not calling for a halt of bear hunting."

The professional biologists with California Fish and Game correctly understand that the best and most effective method to control burgeoning bear numbers in the rugged California backcountry is pursuit with trained hounds by experienced hunters. In the vast Western landscapes, it's simply not practical to hunt bears through drives or spot-and-stalk.

We'll side with the professionals on this one.