Stew Churchwell considers hunting an important part of the "back to the land" lifestyle he leads near Challis, Idaho. If he doesn't get a deer or elk, "I'll be sentenced to beans for a whole year," he says.
He grew up in Oregon, where
he hunted bear and raccoon with his father and the family's hounds.
His 10th birthday present was a hound of his own. But hounding
never sat well with him. He remembers the first time he saw his
dogs attacking a raccoon.
"It was a
heart-wrenching experience," he says. "I remember thinking, "what
are we doing here?" "
Churchwell now heads Idaho
Sportsmen for Fair Hunting, a group of hunters who are working to
pass Proposition 2, a ballot initiative that would outlaw bait and
hounds in hunting black bear during the fall, and end the spring
bear hunt entirely (HCN, 12/11/95).
He says the
state Fish and Game Commission has considered the move in the past,
but a small yet vocal group of hunters has kept the commission at
"This is not a management issue," he says.
"It's an issue of sportsmanship."
On the other
side of the debate is Don Clower, another avid hunter and head of
the Sportsmen's Heritage Defense Fund. "The animal-rights people
are imposing their values on the people of Idaho and the rest of
the U.S.," he warns. "They'll peck away at us, one little group at
Clower, a hunters' education instructor
and a member of a state committee on hunting practices, considers
the spring bear hunt a good part of life in Idaho. He describes
hound hunting as "some of the hardest hunting I've done in my life.
There's nothing unethical about it."
the only place this kind of drama is being played out. Voters in
six other states will decide on hunting-related ballot initiatives
next month. Most are aimed at tightening the strings on acceptable
hunting methods. With only weeks left before the election, polls
show that most races are close.
I-655 would ban bear baiting, and stop hound hunting of bears,
cougars, bobcats and lynx. In Colorado, Amendment 14 would outlaw
trapping, snaring and poisoning animals in the state (see story
below). Voters in Alaska, Michigan and Massachusetts face similar
The old guard has reason to fear.
Non-hunters have recently used such initiatives to their
In 1990, California voters banned the
trophy hunting of mountain lions and set aside $30 million a year
for habitat protection. A California initiative to repeal this ban
failed in March. In 1992, Coloradans voted to outlaw baiting and
hounding black bears, and end the spring bear hunt. In 1994,
Arizona stopped certain types of trapping on private lands. The
same year, Oregon voters banned bear baiting and hunting bears and
mountain lions with dogs.
This year, Oregon
hunters are fighting fire with fire.
other guy is going to go after it emotionally, you've got to meet
them head-on," says longtime hunter Greg Clapper. He is leading the
fight for an initiative called Measure 34, which would give the
state Fish and Wildlife Commission exclusive authority to manage
wildlife and hunting policy. Led by a committee with the unwieldy
but enthusiastic name "Don't Let The Wackos Get Away With The Lies
This Time!," Clapper and his allies have showered the state with
literature calling their opponents animal-rights fanatics and
raising concerns about growing predator
According to John Beecham, who plays
a central role in bear management with the Idaho Fish and Game
Department, the issue is not a crisis of ethics but a failure to
use the system already in place. "Hunters are traditionally the
main constituency for fish and game agencies," he says.
"Non-hunters don't even know our commission exists. They don't know
The solution, he says, is to draw
the broader public into the decision-making process. "Hunters have
resisted allowing others into the process," he says. "If we
continue to force non-hunters to the ballot box to effect change,
we're going to be faced with these initiatives every year."
Former HCN intern Greg
Hanscom is a graduate student in Missoula,