I traveled through Iowa today with HSUS state director Carol Griglione, getting the word out in opposition to a bill that would allow the hunting of mourning doves for the first time in 90 years. After meeting with lawmakers at the state capitol in Des Moines, I appeared as a guest on the Jan Mickelson Show on WHO Radio, and visited with other media outlets across the state.
The supporters of dove hunting, led by Sen. Dick Dearden (D-Des Moines), trot out the same old tired arguments over and over again: They say doves are plentiful, they're hunted in other states, they're not going to become endangered, and there's no reason not to hunt them. But we say it's not about whether we can hunt doves -- it's about whether we should.
Since Woodrow Wilson was in the White House, Iowa has safeguarded the gentle and inoffensive mourning dove as a protected songbird. Like the residents of many other Northeastern and Midwestern states, generations of Iowans have grown up enjoying doves at their backyard birdfeeders, listening to their soft cooing, and haven't viewed them as a game species.
There's simply no good reason to change this policy that has been in place for nearly a century. Doves are not overpopulated, they don't damage property or cause nuisance problems, and there's no management justification. They're actually helpful to farmers by eating weed seeds on the ground, acting as a natural herbicide. And their tiny bodies yield only a morsel of meat, so they're not a viable food source.
Hunters have dozens of other game species in the state -- deer, pheasants, turkeys, ducks, and more -- and don't need to add the dove to that list. In fact, when neighboring Minnesota opened a dove season for the first time after decades of protection, only 1 percent of licensed hunters even bothered to show up. State officials wildly overestimated the number of hunters who would be interested in a new dove season, and described it as a "non-event" that began with a "dose of disinterest."
In nearby Michigan, one of the biggest hunting states in the country, the question of dove hunting was put on the statewide ballot in 2006. An overwhelming majority of voters in all 83 counties -- from the most urban to the most rural -- said no to dove hunting, rejecting the new season with a statewide vote of 69 percent to 31 percent. The Michigan and Minnesota experiences demonstrate just where real people, including responsible sportsmen, stand on this issue.
It has come up before in Iowa, and it will come up again. When the legislature narrowly passed a dove hunting bill in 2001, then-Gov. Tom Vilsack vetoed the measure, citing the overwhelming opposition of Iowa citizens. It was the right policy then, and it's the right policy now.
We are throwing everything we can at this fight, and with your help, we can once again defeat this wrong-headed proposal. If you live in Iowa, please join our Humane Lobby Day on February 18, and contact your state legislators to let them know it's the dove hunting bill, not the doves, that should be shot down.