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Kingston – Hundreds of hunters and animal rights activists jammed into the chambers of the Ulster County Legislature last night, arguing over the use of public money to fund a pheasant-hunting program.
The hunters won this round but the more telling numbers are written elsewhere.
Buried on the Web, in an old plan on how to save pheasant hunting, for instance, there was this: "In 1968, approximately 272,000 hunters harvested 521,000 pheasants in New York State."
How many hunters now? 25,000 said Maureen Wren, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Wild pheasants? Practically gone. The state hands out 25,000 young adult ring-necked pheasants, along with about 60,000 baby chicks, yearly.
The pheasant habitat has disappeared, the report says, which is a fancy way of saying the grassland meadows and hillsides where the birds live have given way to houses and shopping malls. The population of the Hudson Valley has almost doubled since 1960. Over the long run, the continuing increase in population will have greater impact on the fate of pheasants than last night's debate. Yet debate they did. The animal activists urged the Legislature to keep local hunters from using $7,000 in county money to raise pheasants only to hunt and kill them.
The hunters, collectively the Ulster County Federated Sportsmen's Club, denounced the restrictions as an attack on their way of life.
"This is a national campaign to force us into a total vegetarian state," said hunter and former Wawarsing supervisor Richard Craft. "More and more restrictions will be attempted. We do not need the mindset of the New York Times or the U.N."
Brian Shapiro, a Democratic legislator from Woodstock, who proposed the compromise that would have let the club keep the money but bar it from using it for the pheasant program, disagreed.
"There is nothing [in the compromise] about taking away your right to bear arms, and this is not about taking away your funds," Shapiro said.
Kirsti Gholson of Woodstock organized a protest recently against the use of the county's money by the hunters.
"A lot of us are frustrated with where our money goes at the federal level. This is something we may actually be able to change," she said.
In the end, the hunters bagged their pheasant. The legislature approved the funding with no restrictions by a 27-4 vote.
But the fight isn't over. Shapiro plans to propose another compromise next year, and Bill Smith of the club said he expects it to come up again.
"But next year I expect us to turn the $7,000 down," Smith said.

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