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Opponents of mourning dove hunting to mount petition drive aimed at 2006
August 5, 2004, 3:49 PM

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Voters could get the final say in whether mourning dove hunts should be allowed in Michigan -- but not until 2006.

A coalition aimed at reversing a new state law that would allow a hunt announced a petition drive Thursday. Their goal is to have voters decide in the November 2006 election whether hunts should be allowed in the state.

The initiative likely comes too late to stop a trial hunt on track to begin in six southern Michigan counties this September, but it could affect later hunts.

"Voters will have the final say in whether the bird of peace should be blasted into pieces," said Michael Markarian, a coalition member and president of the Fund for Animals. "There is no reason to shoot them, other than for target practice."

The coalition -- called the Committee to Restore the Dove Shooting Ban -- would need more than 158,000 signatures from valid voters to get the issue on the ballot. Signatures must be collected by March, coalition members said.

Dove hunting advocates called the opposition an overreaction based on emotion and politics rather than sound science. They say a mourning dove hunt would boost the economy and introduce more people to hunting.

"Their action is premature in the extreme," said Sam Washington, executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

Michigan is poised to become the 41st state to allow dove hunting, reversing a century-old ban. Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a bill that would allow the hunt in June, which anti-dove hunting groups said broke a campaign promise.

Guidelines for a possible trial hunt are being developed by the state Department of Natural Resources. The recommendation, which like will be presented to the state's Natural Resources Commission next week, is expected to mirror a compromise struck with Granholm when she signed the bill.

Trial hunts would be held for three years, only in Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph, Branch, Hillsdale and Lenawee counties -- all bordering Indiana or Ohio, where dove hunting is already allowed. Michigan game officials would study the impact on the mourning dove population before allowing more hunts.

The Natural Resources Commission could vote on the recommendation to establish trial seasons Sept. 10, and a dove hunt could be allowed soon afterward.

Advocates of the dove hunt say they are confident a season would not adversely affect the dove population. They say the trial hunts, along with data from other states, will back that up.

"If we thought for one second this would have a negative impact on the resource, we would be in opposition to it," Washington said.

Opponents of the hunt say the mourning dove, which looks like a slender pigeon, should be a protected songbird.

They say allowing a hunt could result in poisoning of species from lead shot, and could kill off other birds that hunters may mistake for mourning doves.

"We should not be adding other avenues of mortality for vulnerable populations," said Jim Bull of the Detroit Audubon Society.

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