- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

Two assistant professors at West Virginia University think hunting has gotten a bum rap in recent years and are starting a course designed to show the positive aspects of the sport.

John Edwards and James Anderson, who teach classes in wildlife and fisheries resources at West Virginia University, have won a $34,000 grant from the R.K. Mellon Family Foundation to develop a new undergraduate course for the fall semester titled “The Tradition of Hunting.”

In a telephone interview yesterday, Mr. Edwards said he hopes the class attracts not only a “pro-hunting segment,” but also non-hunters and antihunters so there can be a full and open discussion of the issue.

He said he thinks many young people have a negative view of hunting “based on inaccuracies in the media” and characterizations by some animal rights groups.

“We’re not trying to change viewpoints, but my hope is to expose students … to the positive things that go with hunting,” Mr. Edwards said.

“Hunting teaches patience, respect for animals and family values. A young person often learns about hunting from a father or grandfather. I spent a lot of time with my family [when I was growing up] through the act of hunting,” he said.

Mr. Edwards said the course also will cover topics such as the evolution of hunting in society; its role in wildlife management; hunting ethics; gun control and economic impact.

“Hunting is the most economic tool in wildlife management today,” he said. But he acknowledged many Americans “who scream” about the danger that surplus deer pose on the roadways and the harm that the free-roaming wildlife can do to property.

Hunting has been in a slow, steady decline nationally for two decades, and specialists on this trend attribute it primarily to fewer public hunting grounds.

“Nationwide, between 8 [percent] and 10 percent of the population say they hunt, but that percentage is higher — about 22 percent — here in West Virginia, where there’s still a lot of rural land,” Mr. Edwards said.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service conducts the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation every five years. The most recent survey in 2001 reported that about 13 million Americans, 16 and older, participated in hunting that year.

Although antihunting, animal rights groups such as Fund for Animals have used these data to indicate that interest in hunting is down, other groups, such as the National Wild Turkey Federation; Southwick Associates, a fish and wildlife economics and consulting firm; and Responsive Management, a polling organization, said the number of Americans who hunt or have an interest in hunting, is nearly double or triple those survey results. Some of them just don’t go hunting every year, the groups said.

In West Virginia, the state’s Department of Natural Resources said hunters and fishers generate nearly $700 million yearly for the state economy by buying licenses and obtaining lodging and equipment.

Asked whether it is moral for hunters to kill wildlife they do not intend to eat, Mr. Edwards said the days of “subsistence hunting” are pretty much past. But if a hunter and his family can’t eat all the meat they kill, he said, they should give it to others.

He hailed the work of a Maryland-based group called Hunters for Hunger, which has “distributed thousands of pounds of venison” to food banks and soup kitchens in recent years.

Mr. Edwards said he’s noticed a trend among undergraduates enrolled in wildlife-management courses in which an increasing number of them never have hunted.

“I don’t think every [wildlife] professional needs to hunt, but they need to understand hunting,” he said.

As for the class he and Mr. Anderson will be teaching next fall, Mr. Edwards said they plan to cap enrollment at 100 students in the first year.

“It will be a free elective that will be open to all disciplines,” he said. He anticipates that up to 30 percent of the students taking the course will be women.

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