AR-News: (US) Anti-hunting movement alive and well in some parts of U.S.

Michael Markarian mmarkarian at fund.org
Thu Oct 23 12:00:55 EDT 2003


               Copyright 2003 Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
                      Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
                              The Kansas City Star

                           October 23, 2003, Thursday

SECTION: SPORTS

KR-ACC-NO:  K2493

LENGTH: 2152 words

HEADLINE: Anti-hunting movement alive and well in some parts of U.S.

BYLINE: By Brent Frazee

BODY:

   KANSAS CITY, Mo. _ On a fall day at a wildlife area in New Hampshire, deer
hunters become the hunted _ the target of dozens of animal-rights activists
shouting into bullhorns and carrying signs reading "Hunters are murderers."

   In a small town in western Kansas, hunters also are greeted with signs_signs
reading "Welcome to town." On opening day of the pheasant season, they get the
red-carpet treatment everywhere from the churches that sponsor big chili dinners
to the farms where they hunt.

   Two different hunts. Two different worlds.

   In the East, the anti-hunting movement is very much alive and well.
Animal-rights activists press on with their fight to stop the killing, making
their presence known in the hunting fields, legislatures and courtrooms.

   But here in Mid-America, such scenes are something hunters only see on the
national news.

   Oh, that isn't to say there isn't opposition to hunting in Missouri or
Kansas. But that dissent is nowhere near as large as it is on both coasts, where
the anti-hunting movement has its roots.

   The farther you move toward the center of the country, many hunters say, the
more you move toward a place where hunting is part of a way of life.

   That's why the sport is so firmly entrenched here, they say_and why it is so
seldom challenged.

   "Here in Kansas, we've never heard much backlash against hunting," said Mike
Hayden, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. "We've been
insulated from that.

   "I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that most of our residents
have a connection to the land. A lot of our people are only a generation or two
removed from their rural roots.

   "Hunting is just part of our heritage."

   ___

   Surveys in Mid-America support Hayden's assertions_and reveal trends that
anti-hunters don't like to see.

   More than 90 percent of Kansas residents support legal hunting, according to
a poll in the late 1990s.

   And 88 percent of Missouri residents surveyed in 2000 approve of hunting if
it is done for food.

   Compare those figures to states in the East, and you quickly get the idea
that this is hunting country. In New Hampshire, for example, that support level
stands at 67 percent. And in Connecticut, almost 15 percent of those polled
indicated they strongly disapprove of hunting_one of the highest rates in the
country.

   Why the disparity? Heidi Prescott, national director for the Fund for
Animals, one of the most visible anti-hunting organizations in the nation,
credits much of it to population distributions.

   "The anti-hunting movement has its roots on the coasts," Prescott said. "That
's where the largest population centers are, and that's where we can reach the
most people.

   "But that doesn't mean we won't venture out. We've gone to the Midwest and
found success.

   "I don't think hunters in your area should get too comfortable. We are
willing to fight hunting anywhere."

   ___

   For almost 20 years, Prescott has been one of anti-hunting movement's most
visible advocates.

   There was a time when she was at a hunt almost every weekend, loudly
protesting her perception of the sport.

   "We just feel that hunting is cruel and unnecessary," said Prescott, who
heads the New York-based animal rights group. "We're not talking about
subsistence or survival anymore. We're talking about killing animals for
recreation. And that's not right.

   "My goal is to see sport hunting abolished. That might not happen in my
lifetime, but we're making progress."

   Wildlife agencies and hunters disagree with Prescott's view of hunting. They
say the sport is more than just target practice. It is fair chase, often far
more challenging than anti-hunters portray it.

   And it's about more than just the killing, they say. It affords quality time
in the outdoors, a closeness to the land and tradition.

   Hunting also provides a necessary role in wildlife management, officials say,
helping reduce populations of some animals that otherwise would become
overpopulated.

   But anti-hunters such as Prescott dismiss those arguments. They say nature
can take care of its own.

   That's why Prescott has worked so tirelessly to organize "hunt disruptions,"
targeting areas where hunters are most concentrated and where there is the most
potential for publicity.

   Protesters have followed hunters into the woods and fields, "trying to talk
sense into them," Prescott said.

   She admits that she hasn't changed many minds. But she cheerfully adds, "We
've saved a lot of animals over the years. It's hard for a hunter to shoot
anything when he's trying to talk to 10 of us."

   She also admits her activism has had its scary moments.

   "One time when we were in the Poconos, a bear hunter we were following into
the woods shot over our shoulder," she said.

   Such confrontations have become more difficult now that each of the states in
the nation has passed hunter harassment laws, making it illegal for anyone to
openly interfere with a hunt.

   But Prescott and others have turned to what they say is a more effective way
of fighting hunting _ through the legislatures and courts.

   "When we file a lawsuit or get a bill passed in the legislature, thousands of
animal lives are saved," Prescott said. "We can accomplish a lot more that way
than we can at one hunt."

   Prescott and the Fund for Animals aren't alone in their fight against
hunting. Other organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States,
the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the American Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and countless
others also are active.

   PETA is one of the most visible organizations, though the anti-hunting
movement isn't one of its major campaigns. It puts more effort into fighting the
use of animals for the food industry, entertainment, clothing and
experimentation.

   Still, it is very much opposed to hunting _ and isn't reluctant to voice its
strict views.

   "I hate the hypocrites who criticize hunters for killing animals and then go
to the grocery store to pick up a steak," said Stephanie Boyles, a wildlife
biologist for PETA, a group based in Norfolk, Va. "We're against the
exploitation of animals in any form _ whether it be hunting or in the food
industry."

   ___

   Growing up in western Kansas, Hayden found it hard to identify with such
anti-hunting sentiment.

   In the little town of Atwood, hardly anyone was opposed to hunting. And if
someone was, he or she didn't dare make that sentiment widely known.

   "I never heard anyone speak out against hunting," he said. "The support
seemed pretty unanimous.

   "Everyone would get worked up over the pheasant opener. The night before the
season was almost like Christmas Eve.

   "It was almost like a holiday out there."

   Not much has changed. Though the gamebird populations have fallen over the
years and hunter numbers have dropped correspondingly, the arrival of hunting
season is still a big deal in Kansas.

   And little protest is ever heard.

   "The whole center of the country _ from the Dakotas all the way down to Texas
_ has a very strong hunting tradition," Hayden said. "In our agency, we seldom
have to deal with anti-hunting issues.

   "In the last several years, I can remember only one time when someone has
shown up at a (Wildlife and Parks) commission meeting to oppose hunting."

   The same is true in Missouri, according to Dan Witter of the Department of
Conservation.

   There, too, hunting is an activity steeped in tradition_and not often
challenged.

   There have been minor protests at managed deer hunts at a wildlife area in
the St. Louis area. And years ago, there was a demonstration when a goose hunt
was held at a golf course near Smithville Lake to reduce nuisance birds.

   But those events have been few and far between, Witter said.

   "When you consider that we have almost a half million people go out for the
firearms deer hunt alone and that we get only a handful of complaints each year,
it tells you something," said Witter, outreach program chief for the Department
of Conservation.

   "We don't find ourselves wringing our hands over the animal-rights movement.
Hunting has always had a lot of support here."

   Why? Witter, like Hayden, believes it can be traced to lifestyle.

   "Surveys show that about 40 percent of our urban residents have rural roots,"
he said. "Some of those people have a tradition of going back to the family farm
each year for hunting season.

   "Even though we have the large urban areas, we tend to have rural values."

   So, Missouri and Kansas hunters, you don't think the anti-hunting movement
will ever hit home?

   Well, don't be so sure. Within the last five years, a neighboring state,
Iowa, has surfaced as an unlikely battleground for hunters and the anti-hunting
movement.

   When sportsmen and pro-hunting groups pushed for an initiative that would
legalize dove hunting in the state, anti-hunters pushed back _ and showed just
how much might they have.

   In 2000, the debate became so heated that national anti-hunting groups such
as Fund for Animals and pro-hunting forces such as the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance
became involved.

   Each side made highly emotional pleas to the public.

   The pro-hunters pointed out that the dove was a challenging gamebird that was
legal game in 39 other states. They pointed out that though the dove was small,
it is tasty game. And they maintained that because Iowa has one of the largest
populations of doves in the nation, hunting would not endanger bird numbers.

   The anti-hunters asserted that the dove is a songbird that should not be
hunted. They pointed to the fact that the dove was known as the "bird of peace,"
and wasn't a bird of the hunting fields. It had been protected since 1918, they
said, and it should remain that way.

   The campaign got ugly. At one point, members of a five-man committee
supporting dove hunting claimed to have gotten what they thought was a death
threat from an anonymous letter writer.

   No animal-rights group accepted responsibility for writing the letter. In
fact, the anti-hunting movement accused pro-hunting groups of fabricating the
letter to get sympathy for their cause.

   Whatever the case, the pro-hunting bill passed in both chambers of the Iowa
Legislature. But the anti-hunters weren't done. They mounted a furious
last-minute campaign, urging Iowans opposed to dove hunting to contact Gov. Tom
Vilsack.

   In January 2001, Vilsack vetoed the bill, saying, "The majority of Iowans do
not support changing the current law to legalize dove hunting. My office has
received contact from thousands of concerned Iowans regarding this issue and my
conclusion is that this policy is not right for our state at this time."

   For pro-hunting forces, it was a crushing blow_one that still stings.
Lobbying forces such as the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance have successfully fought
to get dove hunting legalized in states such as Ohio and Wisconsin in recent
years.

   But not in Iowa.

   "I think this shows that it can happen anywhere," said Rob Sexton, who led
the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance campaign in Iowa. "The first time I flew to Iowa
to address the issue, I never dreamed that a state like Iowa, which has a
tradition for its pheasant hunting, would ever become a great battleground.

   "This was a very heartbreaking loss for us; one that sticks in our craw. But
more than anything, it reminds us that we have to be vigilant.

   "These attacks on hunting can break out anywhere."

   The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and the Missouri Department of
Conservation heed that warning.

   Though hunting is very much accepted now, they know that could someday
change.

   Part of that fear is based on the graying of their user base. Surveys have
shown that the age of the average hunter in both states is rising.

   In Missouri, for example, the average hunter is now 42 years old. Ten years
ago, that standard was 34.

   That tells wildlife officials that younger hunters aren't being recruited
into the ranks as often as they were years ago.

   Urbanization, competing interests and a lack of exposure to the outdoors are
all contributing to falling hunter numbers. That's why agencies in both Kansas
and Missouri are establishing programs designed to provide opportunities to
youngsters and hopefully recruit hunters for the future.

   If those new hunters don't come along, officials fear that public opinion may
slowly turn against hunting.

   "We can't get too complacent," Witter said. "With our aging hunter base and
increasing urbanization, there's the potential for change."

   Anti-hunters such as Prescott also see that potential.

   "I think there will be a day when hunting is abolished," she said. "I might
not be around to see it, but that day will come.

   "There is a changing view of animals. More and more people now see them as
something more than just a living target."

   ___

   (c) 2003, The Kansas City Star.

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