It sputtered at first, then got a boost two years ago in California, and now the animal-rights movement, in its effort to eliminate the killing of animals for sport, seems to have the hunting community up against the wall.
Sportsmen's organizations and wildlife agencies throughout the country are so alarmed at the speed and efficiency with which the movement is traveling that they are calling for an all-out effort among hunters to band together "before it's too late."
"If you look at what's going on nationally, it doesn't have to be a heavily populated Eastern state (to be pressured by animal-rights groups) anymore," said Al Wolter, director of communications for the Wildlife Legislative Fund of America, a group created in 1977 to protect the rights of sportsmen. "They're having big problems in Montana right now."
And in Colorado and Florida and New Mexico and Arizona . . . nearly everywhere animals are hunted.
"They're doing what they're good at--knocking down the wall, one brick at a time," said Jim Glass, president of the WLFA.
"We've got a tremendous amount of clout out there in numbers," Wolter said. "But if they're not organized, it's not helping anybody. A lot of times they're just enjoying the fruits of others' labors. . . . That happened on Proposition 117."
In California, the animal-rights movement won a significant victory when Prop. 117 passed in 1990, outlawing the hunting of mountain lions.
"A stronger turnout likely would have defeated the referendum and ended the extremists' ill-founded assault on scientific wildlife management," said Daniel Poole, of the Boone and Crockett Conservation Committee.
The Fund for Animals, one of the most visible animal-rights groups in the country, followed that victory with a successful attack on bowhunting of bears, saying that the method was cruel and inefficient. The courts were not satisfied with the California Department of Fish and Game's documents supporting the hunt and canceled it.
Since then the DFG, spending more time, effort and money than it would like to spend--the bear challenge cost $400,000--believes it is able to adequately prepare documents necessary to satisfy the courts. The agency was successful in getting the archery bear season reinstated, and there were no challenges for the 1991 deer or bear seasons.
Still, the Fund for Animals, in a letter to the DFG before the season, hinted that it would return, insisting that "the DFG's cozy relationship with the consumptive user groups is inappropriate."
Further challenges are coming in California, and others are popping up elsewhere in the country.
The Fund for Animals was the chief player in halting a four-day elk hunt last fall in Arizona--after it had begun, a first. It has successfully fought grizzly bear hunts in Montana, where half the adult men and one in five women hunt, and where deer, elk and antelope hunters five years ago spent $126 million. Black-bear hunts in Florida and the use of bait and hounds during bear hunts in Colorado also have been halted.
Wayne Pacelle, 26, national director of the Fund for Animals, which has divisions in 18 states and 200,000 members nationwide, says his organization last year spent nearly $2 million and that it will at least match that this year.
The Humane Society of the United States, considered at least as effective as the Fund for Animals, is working toward attaining total closure to hunting on the 90-million-acre national refuge system.
Smaller, grass-roots groups are springing up, too. Newsweek magazine reported that there are 7,000 animal-rights groups, and although few concentrate on hunting, there are enough to keep the hunting community reeling.
The annual budget of all animal-rights organizations has been estimated at up to $300 million.
The WLFA annually examines or reviews about 10,000 pieces of legislation "that initially may or may not affect sportsmen," Wolter said.
"This is on the state level, and we do the same thing with our national affairs office in Washington, D.C.--bird-dog the Congress and legislators there to keep an eye out for things that may adversely affect sportsmen or scientific wildlife management."
Wildlife managers in every state say they are affected by the movement against hunting.
"It requires a tremendous commitment of time," the Sacramento-based Connelley said. "A lot of the creative energies the department has now have to be relegated toward those activities. It's just been such a big, massive project for our whole division."
Janet George, a wildlife biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, agreed.
"It has affected us because there are a lot of people in that movement," she said. "We're mandated to manage wildlife for all people, so we've got to listen to everybody. Animal-rights groups are part of the public."
That the nation's 70 million hunters have been paying for 90% of wildlife management in most states apparently doesn't carry much weight.