Published October 19, 2006. By Stacey Range. Lansing State Journal
Protesters have filled the Capitol lawn. Hunters have marched in camouflage. And both sides have filled editorial pages with passionate arguments.
But after nearly two decades of debate, the time has come to decide once and for all: Will Michigan allow hunters to shoot the mourning dove?
A bill signed in 2004 by Gov. Jennifer Granholm temporarily ended a 99-year-old ban on hunting the small, gray birds known for their mournful song. A compromise between the Democratic governor and hunting groups created a three-year pilot hunt in six southern counties. During that time, biologists would gather data about the impact of the hunt on Michigan’s ecology and the population of the state’s most populous migratory bird.
But dove lovers wouldn’t have it.
Birders and others concerned about the frequent visitor to their backyard feeders gathered signatures to put the issue on the ballot and stall the pilot after the first season.
Now, the fate of doves is up to voters, some of whom likely are wondering how this little bird created such a controversy.
The ballot question
A referendum on Public Act 160 of 2004 — an act to allow the establishment of a hunting season for mourning doves.
Public Act 160 of 2004 would:
Authorize the Natural Resources Commission to establish a hunting season for mourning doves.
Require a mourning dove hunter to have a small game license and a $2 mourning dove stamp.
Stipulate that revenue from the stamp must be split evenly between the Game and Fish Protection Fund and the Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund.
Require the Department of Natural Resources to address responsible mourning dove hunting; management practices for the propagation of mourning doves; and participation in mourning dove hunting by youth, the elderly and the disabled in the Department’s annual hunting guide.
Should this law be approved?
Appearance: Grayish-brown backs, buff-colored undersides, black spots on the wings and behind the eye, white feathers in the tail.
Sound: Repeated cooing that sounds mournful.
Population: Mourning doves are among the most common birds in North America with a population of 400 million, including 4 million in Michigan. They are especially abundant south of a line from Ludington to Bay City.
Hunting: Legal in 40 states. Hunters normally try to shoot the birds as they fly into grain fields to feed, and doves are considered the hardest game bird to hit, with a national average of seven shotgun shells fired for every dove killed.
Ecological impact: Hunters kill an estimated 25 million doves a year in the United States, about 5 percent to 8 percent of the population. Biologists say that figure is insignificant in light of doves’ natural mortality rate, which ranges from 30 percent to 40 percent annually.
Meat: Each bird produces less than an ounce of meat, so two to four doves are needed to feed one person. The meat typically is grilled, broiled or roasted.
Company: If the law is approved by voters, the dove would join a gaming list that includes the following birds and waterfowl: crow, wild turkey, American woodcock, bobwhite quail, ring-necked pheasant, ruffed grouse, ducks, snipe, geese, mergansers moorhens, coots and rails.
Designation: The state House passed a resolution in 1998 declaring the mourning dove the official bird of peace. The Senate, however, did not pass the resolution so it doesn’t count. [Committee note: House Resolution 244 of 1998, declared the mourning dove the state bird of peace and still stands today. The Robin was made the state bird - soley by House Resolution - in 1931 and also did not have to pass the Senate]
A long debate
Women’s hairstyles have gone from huge and frizzy to sleek and straight. Men’s ties have gotten wider. A generation of newborns have graduated high school and started their own families. But amid the thousands of other changes in the past two decades, one thing has remained — the mourning dove debate. Here’s a look at some key actions in the debate:
1905: The Michigan Legislature adopts a ban on mourning dove hunting.
1985: The state’s Natural Resources Commission votes to approve a mourning dove hunting season. The Michigan Humane Society files suit challenging the commission’s authority. The Ingham County District Court and state Court of Appeals overrules the NRC, saying it can’t establish new game without the Legislature’s approval.
1995: The state Senate approves legislation creating a mourning dove hunting season, but the bill dies in the House.
1999: Then-state Rep. Sue Tabor, a Delta Township Republican, introduces a bill adding mourning doves to the list of game. The bill passes the House, but falls a vote short in the Senate.
2003: Tabor reintroduces legislation legalizing mourning dove hunts.
June 8, 2004: Legislature gives final approval to add mourning doves to the list of game species.
June 18, 2004: Gov. Jennifer Granholm signs the measure with the understanding that the Natural Resources Commission will establish a three-year pilot program in six southern counties.
Aug. 5, 2004: The Committee to Restore the Dove Shooting Ban announces a referendum petition drive.
Sept. 9, 2004: The state Natural Resources Commission unanimously approves a mourning dove season limited to Berrien, Branch, Cass, Hillsdale, Lenawee and St. Joseph counties.
Sept. 10-Oct. 30, 2004: About 3,000 hunters take part in a six-week dove hunting season, during which about 28,000 doves are shot.
March 28, 2005: Dove hunting opponents turn in 275,363 signatures from Michigan voters — about 73 percent more than needed to get the issue on the 2006 ballot.
June 2, 2005: The 2005 and 2006 hunts are suspended after the Board of State Canvassers certifies petitions to block the law.
The sidesSome heavy hitting groups are behind the effort on each side of this debate. Here are some key supporters: