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Activists ponder protesting youth pheasant hunt

Wildlife activists might avoid protesting a youth pheasant hunt Sept. 27-28 at the Denman Wildlife Area as part of their campaign to coax the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife from promoting youth hunting, the group's organizer says.

Matt Rossell, the Portland-based field coordinator for In Defense of Animals, says activists will demonstrate this weekend at two Willamette Valley youth hunts before deciding whether to do the same the following weekend in White City.

The campaign is to draw attention to the state sponsorship of these things, Rossell says. I definitely want to come down, but until I see how things go this weekend, I can't definitely say yes or no.

Whether activists show up at Denman or not, biologists and police will be ready for them.

— All non-participants, including the activists, will be invited to a cordoned-off spot on the lawn outside the ODFW office and they will not be allowed to mingle with the hunters or their families outside of that area, ODFW biologist Merv Wolfer says.

An Oregon administrative rule gives police and biologists the authority to evict anyone from the wildlife area if that person interferes the slightest with youth hunters. And the ODFW intends to exercise that to the letter.

Apparently, that's the interpretation, says ODFW biologist Merv Wolfer, one of several state officials who spent several hours Tuesday at Denman drafting a plan for the protesters.

It's for the safety of the kids, Wolfer says. There's youths out there practicing shotgun shooting. We don't want any distractions for them.

Word of the possible protests have not dissuaded parents from reserving spots on the two-day hunt.

Only 12 of 85 spots for Sept. 27 remain open, and half of Sunday's slots are filled as of Wdnesday. Other hunters will be allowed in on a stand-by basis as others leave, but the 85-hunter cap will remain.

In the youth hunts, kids under 18 go afield with adults to shoot pen-raised pheasants planted in the wildlife area fields. The ODFW organized the events here in 1990 as a way of introducing hunting to teens.

The event includes free breakfast and lunch as well as a shotgun skills clinic.

Former participants like Ben Thompson of Grants Pass will be on hand to help young hunters enjoy themselves.

There wasn't a single thing I didn't like about it, says Thompson, 25, who grew up in White City. My boys are a couple years from going out there. I want it to be there when they hit that age.

Rossell says his group expects to demonstrate at youth hunts Saturday at Sauvie Island near Portland and the E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area near Corvallis.

Rossell organized a similar protest against a February rabbit hunt at E.E. Wilson. After ODFW officials received death threats, the agency withdrew its sponsorship.

Rossell wants the ODFW to cancel all its youth hunts, which he sees as a recruiting tool. He also questions the ethics of planting pen-raised birds in a field strictly to give kids a better-than-average chance of shooting a bird.

John Thiebes, a former ODFW biologist who is now field coordinator for the Oregon Hunters Association, says the planted birds are far more wary and tough to shoot than what Rossell imagines.

It's a great family outing, Thiebes says. They learn safety, hunting values and hunting techniques. There couldn't be a better situation for them.

If his group demonstrates here, Rossell says they will look to provide young hunters with an alternative point of view, but there are no plans to yell at or intimidate the kids.

It's a poor strategy and out-right not nice to shout at kids, lower their self-esteem and make them feel bad, Rossell says.

Thiebes says OHA members will be at the hunt to answer hunters' questions and to encourage participants to ignore any protesters.

Our plan is to not have any show of numbers or counter-demonstrations, Thiebes says. We'll leave that to people who think they have a cause.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail