Coyotes, groundhogs lack important friends ~ by Paul Souhrada, Associated Press

COLUMBUS (AP) - - - - They don't know it of course, but Ohio's groundhogs and coyotes recently broke the first rule of dealing with the Legislature: hire a lobbyist.

With no varmint lobby to plead their case - and maybe help raise a little campaign cash - coyotes and groundhogs didn't have a prayer when lawmakers took up a bill that would allow farmers to shoot the animals from vehicles.Rep. Joe Haines, R-Xenia, sponsored the bill after a constituent complained that by the time he stopped his truck and loaded his gun, the pests would flee.

The bill passed the Senate and the House with opposition. Contrast that with the brouhaha surrounding the 1994 legislation to allow mourning dove hunting in Ohio.

Lawmakers were deluged with phone calls and letters, hunters and animal rights activists jammed committee rooms, and the debate raged on for months. The bill narrowly passed as the legislative session wound to a close. Nearly three years later, backers of the pigeon-sized bird are still working to repeal the law.

A group called Save the Doves has collected more than 100,000 signatures on petitions asking lawmakers to revisit the issue. If supporters can get 100,387 signatures of registered voters, they can force the Legislature to consider repeal. Then, if lawmakers refuse, the group can collect more signatures to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide. Organizer Aimee St. Arnaud of Toledo said she's hoping to collect another 40,000 signatures for a safety margin before turning them over to the secretary of state's office before the Dec. 24, 1997deadline.

Why no similar outpouring of support for groundhogs and coyotes? "Many people don't like groundhogs and coyotes," Ms. St. Arnaud explained. "It isn't that doves are more important than groundhogs, but everybody has doves in their back yard." Ms. St. Arnaud's group has even done polling to back claims that the public supports its position. "But these birds are completely harmless," said Ms. Laymon, whose group, Protecting Our Earth's Treasures, has been helping with the dove campaign. "No one can complain about doves. They eat weed seeds/"

Coyotes, on the other hand, eat livestock. And groundhogs can damage barns and farm machinery with their digging and chewing. Protecting them would be a tough sell to lawmakers. It might not be impossible with a good image consultant and some focus groups, though.

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