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Frye: Oregon lawsuit offers insight

| Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, 7:48 p.m.

A story out of Oregon caught my eye this past week.

The Associated Press reported a man named Duane Freilino and an animal-rights group, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, settled competing lawsuits. The result is Freilino will no longer organize the coyote hunting contests he has run for the past decade to reduce their populations for the sake of ranchers and wildlife.

Coyotes are pretty much fair game in Oregon. There are no limits on how many can be killed.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund sued on the grounds that hunting contests violated antigambling laws. Freilino disagreed but settled when he ran out of money to pay attorneys.

Sound familiar?

It should. Coyotes can be hunted year-round, without limit, in Pennsylvania, too. Dozens of sportsmen's clubs run organized hunts each winter, sometimes with thousands of dollars in cash prizes on the line. They're meant to offer recreation while protecting deer and other wildlife.

No one's contested them, legally or otherwise, yet.

But what if they do? Would the outcome be different?

Support for hunting is strong nationally and even more so in Pennsylvania. According to Mark Duda of Responsive Management, an outdoors-specific polling firm, 79 percent of Americans said they supported legal hunting in 2013. That's the highest percentage he has seen in 20 years, Duda said.

He tells me support in Pennsylvania is even higher, with 81 percent to 85 percent of the public on board.

But that support is not universal. The same people who are OK with hunting deer, or for the meat that hunting provides, are far less likely to be on board hunting black bears or for the sport of it, Duda said.

Some of those opinions, I would guess, are evidence of a lack of knowledge. People don't always understand what we do as hunters or why we do it.

The question is whether we're organized enough to change that.

We'll undoubtedly see more lawsuits and more challenges in the political realm.

Facts won't always matter most. Carter Smith, executive director of Texas Parks and Wildlife, said so at the North American Whitetail Summit in the spring.

He recalled one of his first visits with lawmakers in that state during which he discussed the science behind a controversial wildlife management proposal. He had just finished presenting his case when a powerful politician leaned across the table.

“He said, ‘Son,' — and I knew right away I was in trouble because when anybody starts out by calling you son, you know things are going downhill in a hurry — ‘the only science we care about here is political science,' ” Smith said.

Remember that. Because if hunters become even more of a minority, which is likely, and if much of the rest of the country loses its connection to nature, which is almost certain, we'll need to be more organized, more eloquent and more persuasive.

We've seen in Oregon what will happen otherwise.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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