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Dove-hunting effort gets another shot

It is among controversial issues that are expected to be brought up in the new Legislature.


Iowans could be allowed to shoot mourning doves.

Lawmakers plan to reopen debate over allowing dove hunting, an issue that had people grousing all over Iowa several years ago. State Sen. Dick Dearden, a Des Moines Democrat, said he will reintroduce a bill to allow hunters to shoot mourning doves in Iowa, one of few states where doing so is illegal.

House Speaker Christopher Rants, a Sioux City Republican, said a bill will be introduced in his chamber, too, but he's unsure whether it will pass. "It's not my No. 1 priority, but I support it," Rants said.

The Legislature in 2001 passed a bill to allow dove hunting, but Gov. Tom Vilsack vetoed it, saying a majority of Iowans opposed a dove-hunting season. Backers said the sport would be a boon to Iowa's economy and would be harmless to the dove population. Opponents said shooting doves is a questionable sport in a state with plenty of other hunting opportunities, and they contended that such hunts would hurt a species many people enjoy watching.

The bill joins two others related to Iowa natural resources that are certain to prompt lively debate - one to raise boat-registration fees for the first time since 1984, the other to change the state's long-standing beverage container deposit law.

"I think it's a 50-50 chance it will get to the governor's desk," Dearden said of the dove-hunting measure. "The governor said he would sign a bill if it had a county option" with residents of each county deciding whether to allow dove hunting in that county. Others, though, called that idea "an enforcement nightmare."

"The birds don't know where the county line is," Rants said. "What happens if you are standing in one county and shoot a dove in the next county?"

Vilsack did not comment Thursday.

Still, Senate Democratic leader Michael Gronstal of Council Bluffs predicted the bill would pass. So did Republican Stewart Iverson of Dows.

For 10 years, hunter Tom Kollings of Des Moines, a former Register outdoors writer, has driven to Missouri to hunt mourning doves. He said he'd love to be able to hunt the birds in Iowa. Because the birds live less than a year in most cases, he said, he doesn't understand the opposition.

"A lot of Iowans go to Missouri, and they could be spending that money in Iowa," Kollings said. "The whole issue comes down to this: Will you hurt the population by hunting the doves? Biologists say it won't hurt the species."

Diane Webber, regional director for the Humane Society of the United States, said the coalition that fought the bill will be back this year.

"It's pointless," she said of the dove season. "It's nothing but sport. There isn't any meat left after they shoot them. Harming animals for no reason but sport is not a humane activity."

Hunters say each mourning dove produces about a quarter-pound of meat.

The Republicans now control the House, 51 seats to 49. The Senate is evenly split this year, and leadership roles there are shared between the parties. The last time the dove-hunting bill was debated, Republicans controlled both chambers, but the bill drew bipartisan support.

The so-called bottle bill, with its familiar nickel deposits on beverage containers, is an anti-litter effort that has vexed the Legislature for years. The Iowa Recycling Association plans to push to expand the deposit to more containers. But lawmakers say they are unsure what action, if any, will be taken.

Some grocers' recent decisions to stop redeeming empty bottles and cans have infuriated many Iowans and caught the eye of some lawmakers.

Rants said grocers who turned away the containers without first getting the required approval of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have hurt themselves politically. Gronstal said lawmakers could very well approve legislation requiring any store that sells the beverages to take the containers back, a move supported by the Iowa Recycling Association.

Des Moines resident Al Setka is among the Iowans preparing to change stores if his favorites won't take the cans and bottles.

"It's another example of losing customer service," Setka said. "What did we do wrong? We just take them back to the store to keep them out of the ditch, and they change the rules? Thanks a lot! I think they have an obligation if they are going to sell them to take them back."

Dewayne Johnson of the Iowa Recycling Association is running a petition drive and plans a rally at the Statehouse on Monday's opening day of the Legislature.

"Iowans are frustrated, and I think legislators recognize that," Johnson said. "Iowans' position is clear. They want convenience. They know the system works."

Jerry Fleagle of the Iowa Grocery Industry Association said 80 percent or more of Iowa grocers take back more bottles and cans than they sell. That's because many people buy sodas and beer at convenience stores and other outlets but don't redeem the cans there.

Fleagle said his group doesn't plan to lobby for changes to the current bottle bill. A poll by the University of Northern Iowa in cooperation with the recycling group found that 90 percent of respondents favor the bottle bill and 76 percent want to expand the legislation to include containers that are exempt because they came on the market after the 1978 bill was passed.

"Convenience is paramount," Johnson said. "People should be able to take the beverage containers back to where they bought them, and lawmakers shouldn't forgo convenience to please the grocery industry."

Rants said he opposes the bottle-bill expansion, in part because he recalls the filth of dealing with containers when he worked in a grocery store.

"I handled the containers with animals and waste in them. You wouldn't want that stuff in your kitchen, so why would you want it in your grocery store?"

Iowans also could see higher boat registration fees, a proposal that is several years old. Because those payments are due again this year, Sen. David Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan, said he hopes to have something in place before boat owners renew their licenses. The idea is to sell three-year licenses instead of two-year ones, and to raise fees that would increase revenue for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Gronstal said the bill is part of a broader debate that might also renew talks about park admission fees and other charges to raise money for park operations.

Copyright © 2004, The Des Moines Register.

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