BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    

                                                                  SB 1093
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          Date of Hearing:   July 10, 2001

                                 Dean Florez, Chair
                  SB 1093 (Johannessen) - As Amended:  June 4, 2001

           SENATE VOTE  :   27-4
          SUBJECT  :   Ferrets

           SUMMARY  :   Declares an amnesty for owners of ferrets as of May  
          1, 2001, under specified conditions.  Specifically,  this bill  :    

          1)Provides that a person who owns a domestic ferret (Mustela  
            furo) on May 1, 2001, will own the ferret legally on and after  
            January 1, 2002, if the owner can provide documents to show  
            that the ferret has been spayed or neutered and vaccinated  
            against rabies by a licensed veterinarian.

          2)Provides that any county may adopt an ordinance that provides  
            for licensing of pet ferrets and that includes enforcement  
            methods or other regulations regarding the ownership or  
            possession of a ferret in the county.

          3)Requires the Fish and Game Commission (Commission) to make a  
            determination whether to remove the ferret from the list of  
            prohibited species, with public testimony to commence by  
            October 2003.

           EXISTING LAW  :  Prohibits the importation, transportation,  
          possession, or release into this state, except under a revocable  
          and non-transferable permit, any wild animal, including any  
          member of the family Mustelidae, which includes domestic  

           FISCAL EFFECT  :  Department of Fish and Game (DFG) estimates that  
          enforcement costs could range from $60,000 to $600,000 per year.

           COMMENTS  :   This bill would grant an amnesty for current owners  
          of domestic ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) in California,  
          provided the ferrets are spayed or neutered and vaccinated  
          against rabies.  The bill also requires the Commission to  
          determine whether ferrets should be removed from the list of  
          animals that are restricted in California.


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          From 1994 through 1999, there have been annual bills in the  
          Legislature seeking various degrees of legalization of ferrets.   
          To date, none have passed both houses.

          The domestic ferret is a variety of the European polecat, with  
          which it can interbreed.  Ferrets have been domesticated for as  
          long as 2,500 years.  They were originally used for hunting  
          burrowing animals and rabbits.  Ferrets have since become  
          popular as household pets.

          Proponents of this bill claim that as many as 500,000 ferrets  
          are owned as pets in California, in spite of the ban.  However,  
          a survey of the American Veterinary Medicine Association  
          estimated that there were 791,000 pet ferrets in the entire  
          United States in 1996.  Pet stores commonly have ferret aisles,  
          stocked with food, toys, and cages.  Proponents claim that  
          domestic ferrets cannot live for more than a few days in the  
          wild, because they lack the instincts to hunt, seek shelter, or  
          avoid predators.  Although there have been known cases of  
          ferrets attacking humans, especially small children and babies,  
          proponents contend that statistics show dogs are far more likely  
          to bite.  Of course, due to the secretive nature of ferret  
          ownership, statistics on attacks by ferrets are difficult, if  
          not impossible, to obtain.

          California and Hawaii are among six states in which possession  
          of ferrets is prohibited.  In Kentucky, New Jersey, New York,  
          and Rhode Island, however, permits are available for possession  
          of ferrets as pets or for breeding.  Thirty six states have  
          never prohibited ferrets.  Seven states legalized possession of  
          ferrets between 1987 and 1995.  A 1985 court decision in Alaska  
          removed that state's authority to regulate ferrets.  

          The Commission acknowledges that it has the power to remove  
          species from the prohibited list.  The Commission claims that it  
          is ready to consider the legalization of ferrets, and in fact  
          held a public hearing on ferrets in April 2000.  However, the  
          Commission contends that because its regulatory actions are  
          considered projects under California Environmental Quality Act  
          (CEQA), preparation of an environmental document is required.   
          The Commission requested the ferret proponent organizations to  
          fund and complete the environmental document, but those  
          organizations have not done so.


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          The Commission and the California Waterfowl Association are  
          concerned that escaped ferrets could cause damage to other  
          wildlife, especially bird populations.  Ferrets have become a  
          problem in New Zealand, where they were introduced to lower the  
          population of rabbits.  They have been found preying on the  
          nests of wild birds, including the kiwi, New Zealand's national  
          bird.  Feral populations of ferrets also exist in Great Britain  
          and the Island of San Juan in the State of Washington.

          One major problem with this bill is enforcement.  The bill  
          states that ferrets kept in California as of May 1, 2001 will be  
          considered to be legal, if spayed or neutered and vaccinated.   
          However, because these ferrets were imported or bred here  
          illegally, it is unlikely that the owners will be able to  
          reliably document their presence in the state before that date.   
          DFG will have to take it on faith that ferrets found in the  
          state between May 1 and January 1, 2002 were here before May 1.   
          Furthermore, because ferret owners in the state have broken the  
          existing law, the question arises as to whether they will abide  
          by the law as stated in this bill.

          The Commission argues that, before legalizing any ferrets, it  
          would be better to wait until after an environmental document is  
          completed as required by CEQA and the Commission has had an  
          opportunity to rule on whether to remove ferrets from the  
          prohibited list.  If the Commission were to decide to keep  
          ferrets on the prohibited list, based on the EIR, there would be  
          a large population of ferrets already grandfathered into legal  
          status, and enforcement of the prohibition would be virtually  


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          Californians for Ferret Legalization (sponsor)
          California Animal Control Directors' Association
          California Veterinary Medical Association
          Capitol City Ferret Club
          Contra Costa Humane Society
          Doris Day Animal League
          Ferrets Anonymous
          Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC)
          The Fund for Animals
          25 individuals
          Audubon California
          California Waterfowl Association
          Department of Fish and Game

           Analysis Prepared by  :  Jeff Volberg / W., P. & W. / (916)