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Elections '96: A Voter Handbook | The Fight for Calfiornia:
Candidates for president, the Congress and the Legislature
are among those fighting for your attention and your
vote Tuesday. A look at the combatants.

Hunters, Foes Take Aim at Initiatives in 7 States

Wildlife: One side touts tradition, the other ethical treatment of animals. Six ballot measures would ban or limit hunting; one would repeal an earlier ban on using dogs, bait.

November 03, 1996|DAVID FOSTER | ASSOCIATED PRESS

PORTLAND, Ore. — Sam Burr waxes poetic about the thrill of the chase and the courage of men in the woods. Nancy Perry speaks of slob hunters, of animals dying horrible deaths.

Hunter versus wildlife lover: It's a familiar face-off, but what's new is how many Americans are being asked to choose sides.

Hunting and trapping laws, once the domain of the rod-and-gun crowd, are the subject of ballot questions in seven states Tuesday.

Animal-protection activists, the force behind this year's record number of initiatives, say they merely want to give the public a voice in wildlife conservation.

But hunters, defensive after a six-year string of ballot-measure defeats, see more at stake. They say America's rural heritage is vanishing, threatened by animal-rights fanatics and an urban society grown ignorant of the natural world it professes to cherish.

Idaho, Washington, Michigan and Massachusetts have initiatives seeking to ban various combinations of baiting and hounding of bears, cougars and other wildlife. Colorado voters are being asked to ban leg-hold traps. An Alaska measure would ban aerial tracking of wolves on the same day they are shot.

Here in Oregon, the hunters are fighting back, trying to repeal a 1994 initiative that banned the use of dogs and bait to hunt cougars and black bears.

Conversations with Sam Burr and Nancy Perry reveal a debate driven by vastly different perspectives: one rural and tradition-bound, the other urban and intent on redefining how humans and animals interact.

The video is graphic, Perry warns as she turns on the VCR.

In one scene, a bow-hunter kills a bear feeding on a bait pile, then sticks his finger into the wound. Another bear, treed by hounds, is hit in the face by a bullet. It shakes its head as if stung by a bee, then falls dead to the ground.

Perry has seen this footage many times as coordinator of the campaign against the hunters' Measure 34. She tries not to get upset anymore, but some days are harder than others.

Now, nine hounds are ripping into a bear cub as it tries to flee. "This," Perry says, turning from the TV screen, "I never get used to."

A few minutes later, between bites of a sandwich at a vegetarian cafe, Perry says she got interested in bear and cougar issues during a 1993 meeting of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Perry, who'd recently moved from California to Portland to study environmental law, was dismayed that commissioners preferred setting bag limits over discussing whether some hunting methods might be unethical.

Perry and others soon took the issue to a wider audience, collecting signatures for a 1994 ballot measure to ban the use of bait and hounds in hunting bears and cougars. The measure won, 52% to 48%.

Success, Perry says, was as simple as revealing the gory details of such hunts.

Baiting bears usually involves filling a barrel with stale doughnuts, meat scraps or other garbage. The bears become frequent visitors, and when hunting season starts, the hunter hides nearby and shoots a feeding bear.

A hound-hunter, meanwhile, typically drives along back roads with dogs, releasing them when they detect a fresh scent. Frenzied barking means they've chased an animal up a tree. The hunter then thrashes through the brush, a hand-held antenna helping to find the radio-collared dogs.

"Shooting a mountain lion from a limb or a bear with its head in a barrel is like shooting a bear or lion in the zoo," Perry says. "It clearly lacks any element of sport, skill or respect for wildlife."

Perry, 32, opposes all trophy hunting. Her salary is paid by the Humane Society of the United States, an animal-protection group. Her chief outdoor recreation these days is taking walks in city parks.

None of this, she believes, disqualifies her from having a say in wildlife management. She says hunting has long been policed by game commissions dominated by hunters, resulting in practices that lag behind society's growing compassion for wildlife.

She says she's not the only one appalled, noting that opponents of hounding and baiting include other hunters who consider the methods unsporting.

"You can't just trust that animals are being treated fairly," Perry says. "You have to watch over it."

Sam Burr sits at his kitchen table under the glass-eyed gaze of a black bear mounted on the wall. His wife, Diane, shot it.

When Burr proposed marriage 21 years ago, he did so by asking Diane to be his hunting partner. She knew what he meant.

Burr, 47, a logger until back injuries forced him out 15 years ago, now works as a computer programmer in Portland, 45 minutes from his home in Colton. He and Diane and daughter Megan, 15, live in a trailer home surrounded by a barn, a pony, three horses, four hounds and five acres of fir trees.

A houndsman for 25 years, Burr tells of the "mountain music" of dogs dashing after a wild animal, their bellows and bawls echoing through the woods. Burr revels in it as an opera-lover thrills to Pavarotti.

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