Our Opinion: DFW right to ban hunting contests

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A photograph of a large black bear that had been shot and killed by a local hunter in the Nov. 17 Eagle triggered a heated debate on the letters to the editor page. The tradition of hunting in the Berkshires was pitted against its purported barbarity, trophy hunting was contrasted with hunting legitimately for meat, and the use of the term "harvesting" was employed as an explanation for the need to reduce the animal population and decried as a politically correct euphemism for putting heads on mantelpieces and fur rugs on floors. This debate has long raged and will surely continue to do so.

We'd like to think there is some common ground to be found, however. That common group could be hunting contests for fur-bearing animals, an activity banned last week by the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Board.("State bans hunting contests for furry animals." Eagle, Dec. 21)

Hunting contests in which kills are rewarded with cash or prizes violate the purist ethos of hunting handed down through generations of hunters everywhere, including the Berkshires. According to the DFW, the contests lead to indiscriminate killing that undermines legitimate conservation methods and to the waste of animals, as those competing for prizes are not likely to retrieve the animal for its meat. For this reason, animals that are injured may be left to die slow, painful deaths they do not deserve. Coyotes and foxes play important roles in the ecosystem by controlling rodent and rabbit populations that would otherwise plague property owners. Along with foxes and coyotes, the ban on hunting contests extends to bobcats, weasels, minks, skunks, otters, muskrats, beavers, fishers and raccoons.

Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, maintained in The Eagle that the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Board exceeded its authority, but this would appear to be within the purview of the DFW, along with the other regulations the agency adopts after proper research and input and then enforces. That disagreement aside, the ban on hunting contests will have no impact on legitimate hunters who aren't pursing awards when they trek into the woods. Massachusetts is the fifth state to enact a ban on hunting contests, including neighboring Vermont.

Returning to bears, we'll echo a reminder from Eagle Outdoors columnist Gene Chaque in Sunday's Eagle that bear hunting season has concluded even though bears are still out and about the Berkshire woodlands. For that reason, residents should delay putting out bird feeders until Mama Bear in her `kerchief and Papa Bear in his cap settle in for a long winter's nap.

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