Friday, June 02, 2006

Anti-Coursing Law Falls to Common Sense

Coursing rabbits, 1924.

Some time last year, somone in a coursing club in California decided he would get a little publicity for his club. Or perhaps he was called by ABC-television and was too naive to turn down the request.

Whatever the case, a reporter and camera crew were invited to a rabbit hunt in the California scrub, and the reporter used that footage to produce a "shocking segment" on jack rabbit hunting with greyhounds, complete with footage of a few dogs catching a rabbit or two in mid-stride.

The reporter, of course, left everything out that would have grounded the piece in the real world.

The piece failed to mention that jack rabbits are considered an agricultural pest in Calfornia, and that the state publishes advice on how to shoot, trap and poison them on farm land.

The reporter never mentioned that coursing rabbits is sufficiently rare in the U.S. that only about a dozen people showed up at the event. Some of these people had come from as far away as Canada and Washington state.

The reporter failed to mention that this type of hunting is not much different than using dogs to point birds or squirrels, except that the animal is not killed by a shotgun blast, but by a quick chop from a greyhound who returns the dead rabbit to hand.

The piece failed to mention that scores of thousands of coyotes "course" jack rabbits every day, and that rabbits are a prey species that breeds rapidly, and is found in record numbers across much of the West.

The reporter failed to mention how many shattered roadkill jack rabbits he passed on the highway (and ignored) while making this piece, or how many jack rabbits are devoured every year by bobcat, mountain lion, fox, hawk and eagle.

In the air-conditioned offices of ABC-TV, wild animals die in hospital infirmaries with a morphine drip, while dog food and T-bone steaks come direct from God, prepackaged and with a Universal Product Code printed on the side.

The quick death offered by the greyhound is never compared with death of tularemia -- the disease that routinely sweeps through American rabbit populations, and is a primary density-control regulator.

Television producers have never even heard of tularemia. In fact, they know nothing about jack rabbits at all (hint: they are not a rabbit), nor do they much care. The goal of a lazy reporter in TV Land is not to tell the truth -- it's a quick and "shocking" video to wrap around the advertisements which generate the station revenue.

"Breath deep the ether, little children, tonight the Koolaid is free." All you have to do is see a few ads for tampons, Miracle Mops, beer, and Viagra.

Back in January, I wrote about the history of jack rabbit eradication campaigns in California. Of course this kind of history was not mentioned by ABC-TV. My God, if we start talking about what Grandpa did to control rabbits, greyhound coursing will seem tame!

As sure as swallows return to Capistrano, of course, an opportunistic politician will follow behind "shocking footage". In this case the smug reporter and a Berkley assemblywoman (a true weepy-eyed bunny-hugger) were in clear cahoots. Slam-bang, legislation to end rabbit hunting with greyhounds was introduced in the California legislature.

The good news is that stupid does not always sell, even in California. This particular bit of legislation did not even make it out of committee.

It seems proponents of the law failed to mention that enforcement of laws costs money, and that a new hunting law would require rules and regulations to be written up, web sites updated, brochures produced, and statistics collected. Even as staff time and resources went down this "rabbit hole" of waste, hunting license revenue would be lost, and opportunities to address real natural resource needs would go unaddressed.

The bottom line: this was going to be the most expensive "rabbit rescue" in the history of the world!

And this was even before the litigation was filed to challenge the law -- litigation to which every hunting dog owner in America would have been asked to contribute.

And, of course, all of this nonsense was entirely pointless, because no law can avoid rabbit death. Even in the best of times, adult jack rabbit mortality is around 75 perent per year. The state legislature cannot save a jack rabbit from California's growing population of coyotes, bobcats, cougars, hawks and eagles.

Nor can the state legislature save a single jack rabbit from a Lincoln Mercury. It is an inconvenient truth that cars kill 1,000 times more jack rabbits in California than greyhounds -- to say nothing of the legal shooting of jack rabbits (over 2,000,000 jack rabbits a year are legally shot in California alone), and the occassional abatement poisoning and trapping that occurs on some agricultural lands.

Of all the ways for a rabbit to die, in fact, death by a swift greyhound may be the very best. Not only is it quicker than tularemia, pseudotuberculosis, or toxoplasma, it is more humane and assured than death by gun or automobile tire. It is no worse a death than by mountain lion or coyote, and decidedly better than death by hawk or eagle.

It is not nearly as permanent as death by tract house -- almost nothing can come back from that!

And so, a silly law died under the crushing weight of common sense. For a brief shining moment, logic and nature Herself triumphed.

And so too, in an odd way, did the jack rabbit.

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