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Iowa DNR says dove hunting growing in popularity

August 27, 2013 at 09:21 AM

The Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Dove hunting is growing in popularity throughout Iowa since lawmakers legalized the sport in 2011 following years of sometimes angry debate, according to state officials.

As the start of Iowa's third dove hunting season nears Sept. 1, officials at the state Department of Natural Resources said they're still learning how to manage the 70-day season. Dove hunting has only been allowed since 2011, when lawmakers changed state law and Gov. Terry Branstad signed the legislation.

The move came after repeated efforts by hunting enthusiasts.

Preliminary data shows there's been a gradual increase in the number of dove hunters in the state. Department spokesman Alan Foster said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data shows there are more than 9,000 hunters registered to shoot doves in Iowa. There were about 5,800 hunters for the first season in 2011.

Foster said those early numbers might be a bit skewed since the first season, which made Iowa the 42nd state to allow dove hunting, was approved late and DNR officials scrambled to get it in order.

"It's really just an estimation on our part," he said. "We're still trying to gather data on dove hunting because it is so new, and just trying to figure out how we can work that data to tell us what the participation rates are."

The mourning dove is one of the most widely distributed and abundant birds in the United States. The DNR has no estimate for the number in Iowa because they migrate to warmer climates in the winter. There are doves in each of Iowa's 99 counties.

Despite being allowed in Iowa's surrounding states, it took repeated efforts to legalize the sport in Iowa.

Opponents of the change argued the birds represent peace, and have so little meat that the only reason to shoot them was as target practice.

Lawmakers approved legislation in 2001 to allow dove hunting, but former Gov. Tom Vilsack vetoed it. Vilsack said at the time that he believed the overwhelming majority of residents wanted to keep a ban on the practice.

When the House gave final approval to a dove hunting measure in 2011, members did it quickly and without a chance for public comment. Gov. Terry Branstad then immediately signed the bill.

Carol Griglione, the Iowa State Director of the Humane Society of the United States, said opponents haven't given up hope of making dove hunting illegal.

"The people that are opposed to it are strongly opposed to it and I don't think they'll give up," Griglione said.

Griglione said she worked for years to keep the ban in place. She's now working with other organizations to reverse the law, with some focusing on the environmental impact of toxic lead in the bullets and their digestion by other animals. The group continues to reach out to lawmakers about reintroducing a measure.

Foster said dove hunting is especially important because it came at a time when some other species have declined in population.

"Opening up the dove hunting season gives those hunters an opportunity that they may not be getting from pheasant hunting or quail hunting or something like that," he said.

It's also created an opportunity for older hunters, since they don't need to travel far or traipse over woodsy terrain to hunt doves.

Foster said officials are trying to increase opportunities for hunters, such as adding additional food sources like sunflower seeds to attract birds to sections of wildlife management areas, where hunting is allowed.

"We do notice a marked increase in the number of visits during that first week or two of the season," he said.

Ultimately, Iowa's dove hunting is a research experiment because it's so new, Foster said. The research into determining the sport's popularity will be ongoing for years.

"Especially early in a season setting like this, with only having two years under our belt, the learning curb is still huge," he said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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