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Last September, U.S. District Judge Patti B. Saris halted the Seashore's annual fall pheasant hunt, ordering the National Park Service to conduct a study of the Seashore's entire hunting program.

Saris, in response to a lawsuit brought in 2002 by three national animal-rights groups and several Cape residents, banned the pheasant hunt until an environmental impact study can be completed.

All other Seashore hunting programs, including deer, duck and rabbit, were allowed to continue as scheduled.

This spring, the Park Service began planning a study to determine the effect of hunting on the park's natural and economic resources, "social influences" and other park operations.

The public has provided input throughout a so-called scoping period, which ends July 30.

The next session, co-sponsored by the Truro Board of Selectmen, is at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Truro Central School on Route 6.

Hunters packed a Seashore meeting two years ago to fight for the right to hunt pheasants in the sprawling, six-town park. They claimed it was a rite of passage and a pastime that predated the establishment of the 44,600-acre park in 1961.

Hunting advocates say banning the pheasant shoot could open the door to an all-out hunting ban at the Seashore.

The lawsuit against the Park Service, the Seashore's parent agency, was filed in the fall of 2002 seeking to put an end to the "inhumane" hunt. The plaintiffs included the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society, The Fund for Animals and five local residents.

The plaintiffs argued that an environmental impact study would show that the pheasant program was in violation of the National Environmental Protection Act, or NEPA, and the Park Service's management plan, because pheasants are not native to the area.

The state has stocked the Seashore with pheasants since the 1940s. Because the practice of stocking and shooting the birds predated the creation of the Seashore and the passage of NEPA in 1969, the tradition has been allowed to continue.

Seashore officials have said that pheasant hunting will be phased out over the next several years in favor of native quail, but gave no date as to when that would happen.

The number of pheasants released for the Seashore hunt was cut two years ago from 800 to 500, with most birds shot and killed within several days.

The initial lawsuit sought only to stop the stocking and killing of non-native pheasants, but was amended later to require the Park Service to ensure that all Seashore hunting programs comply with NEPA.

A 1996 study for the park concluded pheasants had little effect on the natural environment because they were either quickly killed by hunters or prey or were unable to survive a winter.

Saris, in her 30-page ruling, said that "research and evaluation of the environmental effects of hunting have been put on the back burner for two decades."

The six-week pheasant hunt traditionally begins in mid-October.

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