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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Hunting Referenda Hit the Ballot

Air Date: Week of

Jyl Hoyt reports from Idaho on that state's bid to regulate hunting practices. In November, nine states will pose similar questions on their ballots. Advocates say the new rules would make hunting more ethical and sportsmanlike. Opponents say sport-hunting itself is under attack.


CURWOOD: In November, voters in 9 states will decide on ballot initiatives that concern hunting wildlife. Those opposed to such measures accuse animal rights groups of trying to do away with hunting altogether. Those who support them say they're just trying to make hunting more ethical and sportsmanlike. From member station KPSU in Boise, Idaho, Jyl Hoyt reports.

(Man: "That's good, okay." A dog barks. Man: "Go get your frisbee. Go get your frisbee. Come on. Get your frisbee, let's play.")

HOYT: Retired postal worker Don Clower plays with his hunting dog in his back yard, near Boise. Most of the time he's off in the woods dressed in fatigues, hunting bear, deer, and birds.

CLOWER: I love to hunt. My wife said I'd hunt grasshoppers if they had a season.

HOYT: Don Clower, a tall Texas native, heads a large coalition of hunters fighting an Idaho ballot initiative that would restrict bear hunting. Supporters of the measure say its purpose is to make hunting more sportsmanlike, but Mr. Clower isn't so sure.

CLOWER: It's a hoax. If you read their, their literature, their goal is to stop all sport hunting in the United States.

HOYT: Mr. Clower also questions who's behind the measure.

CLOWER: It's being perpetuated on the people of this state by animal rights groups who are trying to impose their moral and ethical values on the rest of the people.

HOYT: Stuart Churchwell, a leading advocate of the bear initiative, says such accusations couldn't be more wrong, and points to himself as living proof. He wears a jacket he crafted from an elk he shot. Mr. Churchwell says advocates of the initiative include not only animal rights groups like the Humane Society of the US, but also hunters like himself. The bear initiative would not ban hunting, Mr. Churchwell insists. It would simply restrict the most backward practices, like hunting with dogs. Mr. Churchwell used to stalk bears with dogs, but he doesn't any more.

(Sound of dogs barking during a hunt)

CHURCHWELL: It's a very cruel sport, and anyone who has ever witnessed the screams of an animal being torn apart by a pack of dogs, if you have any kind of compassion at all or love for wildlife like I do, you just can't justify it, the activity.

HOYT: Supporters of the initiative are distributing a graphic video showing the practices the measure's authors hope to stop.

(Barking continues. A gun shot. Barking continues. Man: "Hit 'em again! Hit 'em again!")

HOYT: Besides banning hound hunting, the ballot question would prevent sportsmen from shooting bears in the spring. Backers say bear hunting should be limited to the fall when cubs are older. Bear hunter Doug Clower chafes at that notion.

CLOWER: I really do enjoy eating bear meat, especially spring bear. Spring bear is the absolute very best.

HOYT: The initiative would also stop bear baiting. Setting out bacon grease or jelly donuts to attract the animals. Many of the initiative's opponents say bear baiting is a useful tool for wildlife management, because it allows hunters to see bears up close before they shoot, permitting fish and game officials to control how many of each sex are killed. But Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the US says bear baiting is just a lazy way to hunt. And he says luring the animals with human foods creates nuisance bears who raid campsites, break into cabins, and harass hikers.

PACELLE: One of the principal reasons that bears do that is because they are fed during legalized bear baiting seasons a variety of foods with human scents all over them.

HOYT: To find out what effect the bear initiative might have in Idaho, many are looking to Colorado, where voters passed a similar measure in 1992. The 2 sides of this debate draw very different lessons from the evidence. Opponents point out there are more problem bears in Colorado since the initiative passed. Supporters acknowledge this, but say the increase in bear incidents has more to do with demographics than the new law. More than 300,000 people have moved to Colorado the past 3 years. And many of them have built homes in bear habitat. Wildlife biologists add that drought and difficult weather are partly responsible for the growth in bear problems. Lynn Fritchman says there's another thing. Colorado's experience shows that restricting hunting practices can actually improve the sport.

FRITCHMAN: The annual harvest of bears in Colorado now is not as high as it was prior to the passage of the initiative, and this has all been done in the fall season and it's being done without the use of bait or hounds.

HOYT: Lynn Fritchman is a retired Army officer, and author of the initiative. He's been a hunter most of his life.

(Zipper. Clicks of rifle parts)

HOYT: As he pulls out and examines his rifle, he says values are changing here because many urban professionals are moving from coastal states to the Rocky Mountain states. While his opponents call his ballot initiative a threat to the hunter, Lynn Fritchman says unless the hunting community becomes enlightened, more serious restrictions could be in store.

FRITCHMAN: What will place hunting in jeopardy is most people's perception that hunters are bunch of slobs, and these types of hunting methods are what create that image in people's minds.

HOYT: Although no polls have been done this year, a 1994 Idaho poll showed support for new hunting rules. One factor that makes it difficult to predict the election results is that the environmental community is split on the initiative. Because of a quirk in Idaho law, the measure, if passed, would take bear management away from state fish and game officials and give it to the legislature, a possibility that worries some environmentalists. For Living on Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt in Boise, Idaho.



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