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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Recession is for the Birds

The current economic crisis is taking its toll on animals of all kinds, as pets are evicted from foreclosed homes, livestock are abandoned to starvation, and there’s even a proposed tax on veterinary care. But for some animals, the money crunch has come to their rescue.

Ringneckedpheasant As Mary Esch of the Associated Press reported this week, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is poised to cut some financial fat by shuttering the state’s last remaining pheasant breeding operation. The savings is expected to be included in Gov. David Paterson’s budget proposal, and will mean that thousands of exotic pheasants will no longer be raised in state-run factory farms and released for target shooting.

While 19 states currently use taxpayer dollars to breed and stock pheasants, the economic downturn has led many to deem the programs wasteful and unnecessary. A few years ago, the Pennsylvania Game Commission cut its pheasant stocking program in half to address agency funding gaps. A pre-scandal Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich ended public subsidies for that state’s stocking program earlier this year. Add New York’s cuts, and a total of 260,000 birds per year won’t go directly from the assembly line to the cross hairs.

Ring-necked pheasants are native to China, and don’t occur naturally in the United States. The birds are hand-raised in boxes and pens, and don’t develop any survival skills. Often their beaks are cut off and blinders are placed over their eyes to prevent them from pecking each other. State wildlife agencies release the birds by the truckloads and hunters line up in parking lots waiting for the delivery of these tame targets. The pheasants are almost certain not to survive the hunting season: If they somehow manage not to get shot, they die of starvation or exposure to the elements.

Hunting enthusiasts usually justify their sport by pointing out a management necessity such as controlling wildlife populations. But there’s no compelling need to breed birds in factory farms and release them in parks or fields to be shot, knowing they can’t fend for themselves. It flies in the face of wildlife management and any hunter with an ethic of sportsmanship and fair chase would no sooner shoot an egg-laying hen.

Like the baiting of animals and canned hunts inside fenced pens, the shooting of captive-raised pheasants is inhumane and unsporting. State lawmakers and budget cutters should recognize that putting an end to this “put-and-take” hunting is not only good for animals, but also good for the bottom line.

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