The latest battle between hunters and nonhunters is focused on the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Simply put, the Humane Society and Funds for Animals, which are now one, the National Humane Education Society, filed a lawsuit asking that hunting be stopped on all refuges.

The Humane Society claims hunting is allowed on "more than half of all 550 units of our National Wildlife Refuge System."

The Sportsmen's Legal Defense Fund has asked a federal judge to dismiss the case "outlawing hunting on 37 units" as asked for in the NHES suit.

In its release, the SLDF said "Congress in 1966 and 1997 expressly recognized the legitimacy of hunting on units of the (refuge system)."

Refuge staff use hunting as a management tool. Land can only support a certain number of animals, and when numbers get too high, both land and animals suffer. This occurs mainly during the winter. When there are too many deer, for example, confined on winter range with limited food sources, land is overgrazed and deer die.

A few years back I had a conversation with a biologist for Funds for Animals over the shooting of buffalo leaving Yellowstone National Park. During harsh winters, buffalo leave park boundaries in search of food.

I asked if he would prefer these animals be shot or allowed to starve to death. He said he would sooner see them stave.

I asked if he'd ever encountered a starving animal. He said no.

A number of years ago, while on a range ride with biologists with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in the Indianola area, after a particularly harsh winter, we rode near a grove of trees.

There, huddled in a group, were five deer. All five were alive, but none had enough energy to move any more than to prop themselves up on their front legs. They were starving to death. Close by we counted 35 deer carcasses in a 100-square-yard area that had starved. Break open a bone, and if blood has replaced white bone marrow, the animal starved.

I was probably 50 feet away from the five deer, on horseback, and I could count their ribs. They wanted to stand but couldn't; they were hungry but there was nothing to eat. It was very evident they were in a great deal of pain and under a tremendous amount of stress.

I have no idea how long they had been in this condition, but the biologist said it could have been a week or more, and they could go on this way for several more days before dying.

It was, without question, one of the saddest experiences of my life. The only thing I can think of that would be sadder than seeing starving animals is starving children.

How anyone, especially someone claiming to be a protector of animals, would choose to have an animal spend days, even weeks, suffering the pain that comes with starvation is beyond me.

At least with hunting it's a quick end.

We humans, hunters and nonhunters, are squeezing animals into smaller and smaller areas by building more and more homes and roads and buildings on what was wildlife range. Hunting is an efficient management tool.

The next best thing to hunting would be to trap and move animals that become too numerous for the land to support. So instead of paying lawyers to file lawsuits, why wouldn't the Humane Society simply offer to pay the bill to move the animals? Instead of lip service, get involved in management.

Go out and see the results of overcrowding and then tell me starvation is a better way of dying.


E-mail: grass@desnews.com