New bill makes tall claims in granting 'right' to hunt

November 28, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- About 14 million people hunt in this country, and they manage to kill a staggering number of animals each year.

In the 1988-89 hunting season, the last for which I could get complete figures, hunters killed about 50 million mourning doves, 28 million quail, 25 million rabbits, 22 million squirrels, 20 million pheasants, 6 million ruffed grouse, 5.2 million ducks (10 million in 1992), 4 million white-tailed deer, 1.3 million geese, 1 million chukar partridge, 600,000 mule deer, 350,000 wild turkeys, 115,000 pronghorn antelope, 102,000 elk, 21,000 black bear, 21,000 caribou, 12,000 moose, 2,400 bighorn sheep, 1,500 mountain lion, 1,200 mountain goat, 1,100 brown and grizzly bear, 750 bison . . . and the list goes on.

Obviously, nobody is eating all that wild game. So there must be some reason to hunt besides food.

And drafters of a new bill that quietly slipped through the U.S. Senate recently know what it is: Americanism.

Tucked into the massive anti-crime bill, which passed the Senate 94-5 on Nov. 19, there is a provision that for the first time makes hunting a "right."

"It is the right of citizens of the United States freely to enjoy lawful recreational hunting," the bill says.

While few senators may even have known the pro-hunting provision was in the more than 400-page anti-crime bill, those opposed to hunting were quick to respond.

"There is nothing in the Constitution to suggest that hunting is a right," Wayne Pacelle, national director of the Fund for Animals, said. "It is a privilege and it can be revoked."

The bill, which will become law if approved by a Senate-House conference committee, also makes some very sweeping claims about hunting, claims Pacelle thinks need to be countered.

"Recreational hunting . . . is a necessary and beneficial element in the proper conservation and management of healthy, abundant and biologically diverse wildlife resources," says the Senate bill.

Wrong, says Pacelle.

"Except in extremely rare circumstances, recreational hunting cannot possibly be considered 'necessary,' " he said. "Recreational hunting of native wildlife is prohibited on millions of acres of lands and the animal populations are healthy, abundant and biologically diverse."

Pacelle says that "natural decimating factors and biological limits on reproduction" keep animal populations down.

The Senate bill continues: "Recreational hunters . . . are a valuable asset in ensuring enlightened public input into decisions regarding management and maintenance programs for wildlife resources and habitat."

Pacelle disagrees.

"Hunting programs do not always have a benign impact on the environment," he said. "Waterfowl hunting has polluted the environment with hundreds of millions of pounds of lead shot. And the over-hunting of species such as ducks, grizzly bears and black bears has occurred with unsettling frequency."

The Senate bill also makes the familiar claim that the taxes imposed on hunters provide "a major source of funding for vital programs of wildlife conservation and management."

But while Pacelle says that hunting taxes do go to the states for their wildlife programs, federal lands, which comprise about one-third of the United States, are maintained "with general congressional appropriations, not with hunter dollars."

In other words, all Americans, including the 94 percent who don't hunt, support the hunting of the 6 percent who do.

Finally, the bill says that those people who protest against hunting (which the bill makes illegal; see my column of Nov. 24) places both the hunters and the protesters "in imminent jeopardy of grave physical injury or death" and endangers wildlife.

Pacelle denies that anybody is put in danger by the "small number of people that have engaged in peaceful protests against hunting in the field" and that his group denounces violence.

"After all, it is the hunters who are armed, not the protesters," he said.

4 But do these pesky protesters harm the wildlife?

"Hunting protests are biologically benign, occurring on such a small and spasmodic basis as to have no effect on wildlife population," Pacelle said. "Compare that to the disruption, harassment and killing caused by more than 14 million armed hunters discharging firearms in the woods for several months a year."

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