California wildlife dogged by inhumane GPS hound collars

by Fran Silverman

As if hunting wasn’t gruesome and immoral enough, California has reversed a long-standing ban on allowing dogs with GPS collars to assist in hunting mammals, a move Friends of Animals is challenging in court.

California prohibits the use of dogs to pursue bears and bobcats, but allows hound dogs to pursue pigs and deer. It had prohibited the use of GPS collars on hound dogs, but in December 2017 the California Fish and Game Commission, bowing to sport-hunting interests, moved to lift the ban claiming the prohibition was no longer necessary, would aid in the retrieval of lost dogs and would have no harmful effect on the environment.

But GPS collars create far more threats to wildlife and dogs themselves than hunters care to admit. 

“Hunters can use GPS collars to release more, and often untrained dogs, farther away where they do not have control over the dogs. This will result in increased wildlife encounters where dogs may kill or maul non-target wildlife and may be the target of an attack themselves,’’ Jennifer Best, assistant legal director of FoA’s Wildlife Law Program, wrote in a statement to the commission.

GPS collars also disrupt the natural behavior of non-targeted wildlife. Releasing a large pack of unleashed dogs will lead wildlife to abandon foraging areas or nesting sites and will increase stress and risk of predator attacks, FoA noted.

Additionally, the collars increase poaching opportunities. California’s Turn in Poachers and Polluters program found that some of the most commonly poached species are deer and most poaching occurs in rural areas.

Smart phones and GPS devices enable poachers to find their prey more easily and provide opportunities for hunters to signal others that their hounds have treed a bear or other wildlife that poachers may want.

“GPS collars/treeing switches enable poachers to easily reach cornered, treed, or indiscriminate wildlife,’’ Best said. “It also allows poachers to release dogs in more remote areas, where it is easier to evade law enforcement. Poachers can kill vulnerable wildlife and then delete any data stored on the GPS tracker device to ensure they escape detection. GPS collars also make it easier for hunters to collude with hounders or guides to participate in hunts of species that are illegal to hound hunt, such as bears or bobcats.”

FoA, along with the Public Interest Coalition (PIC), has been fighting several previous attempts by the Commission to lift the ban.

“GPS collars will allow hunters to release untrained dogs that range out of control for many miles, and follow the dogs on a digital screen,’’ said PIC Chair Marilyn Jasper. “Hunters are no longer physically involved in the actual hunt or chase. When GPS signals indicate dogs have stopped, hunters cannot know what the dogs are up to, nor can they immediately stop dog attacks on vulnerable wildlife, such as fawns or endangered species. The dogs, themselves, will  be at greater risk of being attacked by predators without hunters being able to intervene in time.”

The commission’s actions in favor of hunters, who represent less than one percent of the state’s population and whose numbers continue to dwindle, are out of step with the wishes of most state residents and wildlife watchers, who have pumped more than $3 billion into the state.

Most states don’t even allow hound hunting of deer—only 11 do currently and most are in the South. California is among many states that also don’t allow drones in hunting.

“Here we have a small group of public officials that are beholden to hunting interests willing to disregard the fact that most Californians find the practice of killing these animals senseless and barbaric,’’ said FoA’s Wildlife Law Program Director Michael Harris.

In the lawsuit filed in Superior Court in California, FoA, along with the PIC and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, contend that allowing the use of GPS collars on hounds violates state regulations that require hunters to be in control of their dogs at all times. Lifting the ban violates penal codes that make it a misdemeanor to cause any animal to fight with any other type of animal for the person’s amusement or gain and the rules of fair chase.

The Game Commission also failed to conduct adequate environmental impact reviews when it announced notice it was lifting the ban, the lawsuit states