Outdoor Writer: Dove Debate
Published March 25, 2005. By
Howard Meyerson. Outdoor Writer. Grand Rapids Press.
March 29 is not a date that most remember -- unless they happen to celebrate a birthday. But it is likely to be one that people take note of this year.
It is the last day that dove-hunting opponents can deliver signatures to the state Board of Elections if they hope to get the question on the ballot in 2006.
Anti-dove hunting groups have been mobilized for months, gathering signatures around the state, hoping to overturn the recent law that permits the birds to be killed. They have until March 29 to do it, 90 days from the end of the last legislative session.
It appears they are going to be successful.
Their plan is to deliver the signatures on Monday, March 28, one day before the deadline.
"At this point, we have exceeded our goal of 225,000 signatures and we're still counting," said Julie Baker, on Wednesday evening.
Committee gathers signatures
Baker is the campaign director for The Committee to Restore the Dove Shooting Ban, a coalition of wildlife and birding organizations. It's members include various Audubon groups the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, animal welfare groups like the Humane Society and animal rights groups like The Fund for Animals.
She was in Lansing on Wednesday night counting the most recent surge of signatures. The group needed to deliver only 158,879 valid signatures, but opted to go for 225,000 in order to provide a cushion.
Once the signatures are filed, the board will certify the question for 2006. If the signatures are found valid, the current law will be suspended.
That means dove hunting will not be allowed in 2005. And the 2006 season will be determined by the voters.
"Everything would cease until it goes to a vote because they are challenging the law," said Al Stewart, the DNR's upland gamebird specialist. "That's the bottom line."
Straight story on doves
The bottom line, perhaps. But not the end. It will now be up to hunting groups and wildlife-management agencies to make sure if this happens, that the public gets the straight scoop on doves.
I am not a dove-hunting enthusiast, as some of you know, but I am opposed to a referendum for determining this question.
We already have a good system for establishing wildlife-policy decisions. It's a system that is open to the public if the public will use it.
It is also a system that the public strongly endorsed in 1996 when it approved Proposal G at the polls -- another referendum that called for wildlife-policy decisions to be made based on sound science by the state's Natural Resources Commission.
I have to hand it to the dove-hunting opponents. I didn't think they could pull the numbers. But if their signatures prove valid they will have exemplified all that is good about a democracy. They will have channeled their concern constructively and elevated it to a statewide vote. That is the highest form of praise for our system of government.
But having said that I continue to believe a referendum on this would be a mistake, an open door leading to a slippery slope where wildlife policies get determined by emotional appeals at the supermarket or by private citizens with enough money to mount a effective PR campaign rather than based on sound science with the input of concerned citizens.
Don't like hunting toads? Let's vote on it. Raccoon hunting galls you? Cast your ballot. The public voted in 1996 on Proposal G. Now some don't like one outcome, so they want to go back to the polls.
Dove hunters have pooh-poohed the emotional appeals and concerns of their opponents. They dismiss the affinity people have for songbirds and backyard friends. They are also wrong to suggest it has no place in the discussion.
There should be a place for the emotional content. It is a life-and-death decision, after all -- not simply cold numbers cloaked in euphemistic phrases like harvest and yield. Hunting doves is not about managing the population the way we do for deer or bear. It's about a decision to shoot a songbird for sport.
Those emotional voices are the conscience of our society talking. That is something that responsible policy makers need to hear. If they don't have a stomach for it, they are in the wrong job.
Animals and birds that the state manages are not the exclusive domain of those that hunt, a steadily shrinking portion of the population. They are the property of the state and all who live here. Wildlife-policy makers who do not grasp that fact need to prepare for unwanted results at the polls.
But that emotional content also shouldn't be the basis for making the decision -- which must rely first on sound biological principals and data. That's what voters have already said loud and clear with Proposal G.
- Songbird Protection Coalition