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Cheney's Canned Kill, and Other Hunting Excesses
of the Bush Administration
By Wayne Pacelle, President of the HSUS
Vice President Dick Cheney went pheasant shooting in Pennsylvania in
December 2003, but unlike most of his fellow hunters across America, he
didn't have to spend hours or even days tramping the fields and hedgerows
in hopes of bagging a brace of birds for the dinner table.
Upon his arrival at the exclusive Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier Township,
gamekeepers released 500 pen-raised pheasants from nets for the benefit
of him and his party. In a blaze of gunfire, the group - which included
legendary Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach and U.S. Senator John
Cornyn (R-TX), along with major fundraisers for Republican candidates -
killed at least 417 of the birds. According to one gamekeeper who spoke
to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cheney was credited with shooting more
than 70 of the pen-reared fowl.
After lunch, the group shot flocks of mallard ducks, also reared in pens
and shot like so many live skeet. There's been no report on the number
of mallards the hunting party killed, but it's likely that hundreds fell.
Rolling Rock is an exclusive private club for the wealthy with a
world-class golf course and a closed membership list. It is also a "canned
hunting" operation - a place where fee-paying hunters blast away at
released animals, whether birds or mammals, who often have no reasonable
chance to escape. Most are "no kill, no pay" operations where patrons
only shells out funds for the animals they kill.
Bird-shooting operations offer pheasants, quail, partridges, and mallard
ducks, often dizzying the birds and planting them in front of hunters or
tossing them from towers toward waiting shotguns. There are, perhaps,
more than 3,000 such operations in the United States, according to
outdoor writer Ted Williams.
For canned hunts involving mammals, hunters can shoot animals native to
given continents - everything from Addax to Zebra - within the confines of
a fenced area, assuring the animals have no opportunity to escape. Time
magazine estimates that 2,000 facilities offer native or exotic mammals
for shooting within fenced enclosures.
The HSUS worked hard to expose Cheney's shooting spree, and we were
fortunate in persuading The New York Times, The Washington Post, the
Dallas Morning News, and other media outlets to cover the events of
that day and our subsequent criticism.
Our criticism is simple to understand: Farm-raised pheasants are about as
wary as urban pigeons and shooting them is nothing more than live target
practice, especially when they are released from a hill in front of 10
gunners hidden below in blinds - as Cheney and his party were. Such
hunting makes a mockery of basic principles of fair play and humane
treatment, and the vice president should not associate himself with
The private excesses of Cheney are bad enough, and worthy of The HSUS's
rebuke. But it's the public policy excesses that are of even greater
concern to me. Cheney's hunting trip strikes me as emblematic of the
Bush Administration's callousness towards the earth's animals.
The administration's most outrageous proposal is its plan to allow trophy
hunters to shoot endangered species in other countries and import the
trophies and hides into the United States. The administration first
floated the proposal a few months ago, with formal proposals subsequently
published in the Federal Register, and President Bush is expected to
make a final decision soon on the plan, which originated with his U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service.
For 30 years, the Endangered Species Act has provided critical protections
for species near extinction in the United States. The act also protects
species in foreign nations, by barring pet traders, circuses, trophy
hunters, and others from importing live or dead endangered species.
While we can't prevent the shooting or capture of endangered species
overseas, we can prevent imports - thus eliminating the incentive for
American hunters and others to shoot or trap the animals in the first place.
But with this plan the administration is seeking to punch gaping holes in
the prohibitions, under the assumption that generating revenue through the
sale of hunting licenses will aid on-the-ground conservation in foreign
The plan is transparent on its face. It's not aimed to help species, but
to aid special interests who want to profit from the exploitation of
wildlife. No group is more centrally involved in this miserable plan than
Safari Club International, the world's leading trophy hunting organization
and an entity with close ties to the Bush Administration.
The 40,000 member organization of rich trophy collectors has doled out
close to $600,000 in campaign contributions among GOP candidates in the
past six years. President Bush appointed a former top lobbyist of the
Safari Club to be the deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service - again, the very agency promoting the plan to allow the selling
off of endangered species to private interests.
The HSUS is not a pro-hunting organization. That said, we view certain
types of hunting as worse than others. It crosses any reasonable line to
support the shooting of some of the rarest and most endangered animals
in the world. And it is beyond the pale to advocate for or participate in
the shooting of animals in canned hunts - for birds or mammals.
President Bush met with leaders of 19 hunting organizations on December
12. While we expect him to endorse certain forms of hunting, he should in
no way countenance the shooting of endangered species or the hunting of
captive or pen-reared animals. If that's where these hunting groups want
to lead him, he needs to resist their entreaties. He needs to stand up
to these special interest groups and draw a bright line between certain
types of hunting conduct.
Americans don't support this nonsense, and the president shouldn't either.