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Our President, A Mighty Hunter He
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Those who often are forced to defend their practice of stalking and killing our fellow creatures for sport should take heart. They have a friend in the White House.

President Bush also is a "sportsman," as he demonstrated in celebrating the New Year's Day holiday by downing five quail at a bird habitat in Fulfurrias, Texas.

"I'm not that good a shot," Bush said modestly -- "but it was a lot of fun."

The president was joined in Texas by his father, the former President Bush, and former Secretary of State James Baker. A White House spokesman described their quail killing as "a social event."

Bush praised the owner of the area in which the hunt took place for maintaining the land as a good habitat -- not because that benefited the birds, of course, but because it provided easy targets for hunters who wished to kill them.

Coming off the holiday hunt, the president did briefly discuss matters other than his bird kills, specifically the aid he was approving for Iran in the wake of the disastrous earthquake that shook the country six days earlier.

"What we're doing in Iran is we're showing the Iranian people the American people care, that we've got a great compassion for human suffering," Bush said. "It's right to take care of people when they're hurt."

He's right, obviously. But birds and animals lesser than we mighty humans, well, that's another matter.

Ironically, the president's support for hunting has come into possible conflict with his administration's enthusiasm for granting contracts to administration-friendly firms for extracting oil, gas and coal from land in federal forests, plains and wetlands in at least a half-dozen states. That would require the creation of roads and pipelines and processing plants and other facilities that would drive the hunters' prey from the areas.

Hunters are particularly displeased by the administration proposal to remove the Tongass National Forest in Alaska from the protection of a federal regulation that bans new roads in undeveloped parts of national forests. Petitions signed by members of more than 400 gun clubs objected to the plans. They declared that "the Tongass is a gold mine for sportsmen."

At least the "sportsmen" do share the desire of environmentalists to preserve open space, although in their case because that's where their quarry lives. Without open space, they'd have no targets.

The hunters are not really "sportsmen," of course. They are killers who, like President Bush, find it "fun" to prey on innocent birds and animals. That includes, among others high in government, Vice President Dick Cheney and his good friend, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who celebrated the New Year together at a duck hunting camp in Louisiana.

The number of hunters has declined in recent years, thanks to anti-gun sentiment, urbanization, rise of the animal rights movement, availability of a broad range of other leisure activities, heightened environmental awareness and the increasing cost of hunting equipment.

But many millions of them are still stalking the countryside in search of defenseless winged and four-legged victims, and manufacturers of guns and other hunting gear have greatly intensified efforts to increase their number. So have state fish and game departments that rely on hunters' license fees to cover much of their operational costs.

Hunters and their advocates argue that, although the hunters' targets are too dumb to realize it, hunting actually benefits them by "thinning out the herds" and thus keeping the animals from starvation. But though there's no doubt that reducing or at least relocating some animal populations may be necessary for their survival, there are civilized ways to do it.

Once, long ago, we had to hunt and kill to survive. But this is the 21st century. It's outrageous that the head of the world's most powerful and influential nation, one that presumes to be the role model for all others, finds it amusing to engage in the barbarity of hunting and killing for sport.

Copyright Dick Meister