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Dove-hunting issue gets an eagle eye from both sides

December 17, 2001

BY CHRIS CHRISTOFF, DETROIT FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

The doves are safe for the holidays.

Next year is another matter. But for now, legislation that might make the mourning dove a legal target for hunters is on hold. The Legislature begins a monthlong recess, having finished more pressing matters last week.

So the question of dove hunting will lapse into election year 2002, when Republican leaders might be loath to mess with such an emotional issue.

How emotional? You wouldn't believe.

No other single issue -- not abortion, taxes, pay raises for politicians, nothing -- elicits the outpouring of public outrage that shooting doves does. Lawmakers will tell you that. I'll attest, too.

E-mails include:

"I cannot believe my eyes, that hunters(?) want to shoot a small bird that harms no one, is a delight to view and hear in the morning, is not big enough to eat . . . These macho hunters really make my stomach hurt."

You'd think with all the beasts they can shoot, hunters and their legislative minions wouldn't work up a lather to add doves to the list. Or, with all the things that hunters already can shoot, you wouldn't think animal lovers would go ballistic over adding one more, plentiful bird.

Of course, you'd be wrong on both counts.

One year ago in a lame-duck session (which, unfortunately, isn't legal to shoot), Rep. Susan Tabor, a Lansing area Republican, tried to ram through a bill to legalize dove hunting. It ultimately failed in the Senate by one vote, after dove-lovers carpet-bombed senators with calls and e-mails.

Wrote one reader at the time:

"Susan Tabor must be really cold-hearted to want her kids to slaughter innocent tiny birds. What a great mother she must be to want her children to watch a tiny creature screech in pain while it vomits its lifeblood over the ground and flops in terror trying to get away."

Yuck.

The latest uprising surrounds a bill by Rep. Cameron Brown, R-Sturgis, to let the Natural Resources Commission decide which animals and birds are legal game. That decision is now in the hands of the Legislature. Groups such as the Humane Society and Lansing-based Songbird Protection Coalition say the real intent is to legalize dove hunting.

Brown says giving the NRC authority to list game is what voters really had in mind when they passed Proposal G in 1996, which gave the NRC exclusive authority over hunting rules like bag limits. Others say Brown is all wet, and that Proposal G wasn't meant to let political appointees decide what animals can be hunted.

Many see Tabor's fingerprints on Brown's bill. She has promised once again to muster support for a dove season. There's no doubt that, given the chance, the seven-member NRC would open a season on mourning doves.

A few write in support:

"I am an avid hunter and have hunted doves in Kentucky. I have found that they are very hard to hit and are very good to eat. I respect nature including doves and any other animals that I hunt."

But such testimony is swamped by bird lovers who view mourning doves as gentle, backyard company.

One factor now is that the Michigan United Conservation Clubs hasn't aggressively lobbied for Brown's bill as it did last year for Tabor's bill. MUCC director Sam Washington said that doesn't mean MUCC doesn't support Brown's bill. It does. He says it would reduce -- not eliminate -- the politics of hunting.

Washington says hunting doves won't dent their population of millions. But he concedes, "Dove hunting is a volatile issue."

Animal protection groups are watching the issue like, well, hawks. Michigan Humane Society lobbyist Eileen Liska predicts that if the House doesn't take up the bill before the 2002 elections, proponents might serve it up in another lame-duck session next fall.

Once again, the dove lovers will come loaded for bear.


Contact CHRIS CHRISTOFF at 517-372-8660 or christoff@freepress.com.
 
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