Activists Pushing Initiative 655
Initiative 655 is sponsored by animal rights activists who believe using hounds and bait for hunting bears and cougars are cruel and unsporting.
“It’s a matter of ethics,” says Lisa Wathne of the Washington Wildlife Alliance, a West Side-based coalition of animal-protection and environmental groups.
“Killing animals is an emotional issue. Most people accept that animals are going to be killed (by hunters), but they expect it to be done in a fair and humane manner.”
Initiative 655 marks the third attempt to ban such practices in Washington state. Previous efforts to persuade the Department of Fish and Wildlife or the Legislature to act have failed in recent years.
This year could be different. Idaho, Massachusetts and Michigan have similar measures on the November ballot, while Oregon voters will be asked to repeal a ban on baiting and hounding that was approved in 1994.
Although the campaigns to ban hound hunting and baiting for bears have been led largely by anti-hunting groups such as the Humane Society of the United States, Wathne says there’s no conspiracy against hunting.
“After Nov. 5, the Washington Wildlife Alliance will no longer exist,” she says.
Both sides of the I-655 debate are appealing to voters’ emotions.
Hunters say predator numbers will soar, causing more impact on big-game numbers and more potential for attacks on humans.
The animal-rights activists backing I-655 have videotapes showing young bears and cougars being killed in dog hunts in other parts of the United States. They say mothers can be separated from their cubs during the chase or are killed, dooming their young to a certain death.
Both sides are pouring money into the fight, although the initiative’s supporters have out-raised the sportsmen by a large margin in Washington.
Hunters, realizing that they lack the money and emotional appeal of the animal-protection groups, are trying to fight back with data.
Despite hunting, they say, cougar and bear numbers are healthy and growing.
Wildlife agents say the use of hounds and bait give a hunter the time to identify the species, sex and size of a bear before deciding whether to kill it.
Wathne, who temporarily left her job at the Progressive Animal Welfare Society to work for the alliance backing Initiative 655, says hunters’ fears of exploding populations of predators are unproved.
And even if that did happen, she says, Initiative 655 allows wildlife agents to use bait or hounds to track down problem animals.
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