Patience is a sadly unappreciated virtue in politics. Just ask the folks involved in the current slow-motion effort to restrict hunting in California.
Not ban hunting, mind you, because there’s no way animal rights groups like PETA, the Humane Society of the United States and their allies can find the votes for that.
But, like the old story about the frog that never realized he was being boiled because the water was heated bit by bit, small changes can make a big difference, if you’re patient.
Take SB 1221, which is now on Gov. Brown’s desk. The bill bans the use of dogs in hunting bears and bobcats, which is the way those animals have been hunted since, well, forever.
State Sen. Ted Lieu of Torrance, a beachfront community which is not exactly ground zero for either bears or bobcats, is the man behind the bill, which supporters say is designed only to end a method they believe is both inhumane and unsporting.
SB 1221 originally was a bill by Lieu dealing with air quality until he played the “gut and amend” game and transformed it into the anti-hounding measure. That effort came after Lieu was unable to force Dan Richards from his post as president of the state Fish and Game Commission last March after the hunter legally shot a mountain lion in Idaho, which the senator said “incredibly offended” the people of California.
Lieu’s argument now is that the new bill only blocks a cruel method of chasing bears and bobcats and does nothing to stop hunters from using other methods to bag them.
But does anyone really believe the animal rights forces are content just to eliminate certain methods of hunting? Or that their only interest is ensuring that wildlife is granted a “fair chase” by hunters? Are they really going to say, “Now our job is done and we will never need to bother California hunters again”?
Back in 1990, Californians voted for a permanent ban on mountain lion hunting for no particular reason other than they look like such majestic animals. There wasn’t a suggestion that cougars were an endangered species in California. The argument was more along the lines of “hunting these animals is evil.”
Anti-hunting bills show up regularly in the Legislature. In 2003, for example, bills that would have banned using hounds to hunt any mammals, including raccoons and rabbits, and that would have ended dove hunting in the state both were defeated in committee.
Those efforts aren’t going to go away. Anti-hunting groups will keep chipping away at the sport, picking issues that resonate with the vast majority of voters who live in and around California’s cities and suburbs.
With the growing social and political divide between the state’s rural and urban areas, an increasing number of Californians not only have never hunted, but also don’t even know anyone who has.
So the animal rights forces will keep pecking at hunting in California and elsewhere, picking at one aspect or another of the sport, holding it up and saying, “This is terrible and we need to do something about it.”
And California voters and legislators, many whose only real connection to hunting is a childhood memory of “Bambi,” are likely to agree, time and time again.
Maybe it will be banning bow hunting as especially cruel and painful to animals. Or saying that hunting with rifles and shotguns is just too dangerous to allow for those younger than 18. Hunting on private game preserves is under attack in other states and efforts are afoot elsewhere to ban hunting of a number of different animals, including bears, doves, pheasants and moose.
The anti-hunting effort isn’t to ensure that game animals aren’t hunted to extinction. That’s the job of wildlife biologists and state game officials who constantly track the toll that hunters – and nature – take on different populations each year and adjust bag limits and hunting seasons accordingly.
Instead, the steady drip, drip, drip of bills, initiatives and other efforts to restrict hunting are designed to end in a de facto ban, shrinking what’s legal down to a size where, to steal a political metaphor, the sport of hunting can be drowned in a bathtub.
John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.