"The two major causes of extinction are hunting and destruction of the habitat..."

--Senate Commerce Committee report on the Endangered Species Act of 1973

Each year -- usually with the opening of the deer hunting season -- millions of otherwise normal Americans, dressed in bright orange outfits and fully armed, take to the woods to kill, cripple, maim or wound hundreds of millions of defenseless wild animals.

It is throughly documented that, over the years, hunters have been responsible, often along with habitat destruction, for helping wipe out numerous species of American wildlife. It is direct hunting by man -- for sport or profit -- that has been a major factor in the decline of many birds and mammals that are today considered endangered or threatened, such as the grizzly bear, the whooping crane, the leopard, the jaguar, the key deer and the Florida panther.

Countless other rare animals worldwide are threatened by legal, "legitimate" sport hunting. Today, hunting is helping to threaten the survival of such vulnerable animals as the grizzy bear, the bobcat, the bighorn sheep, the leopard, the jaguar and the mountain lion in many areas.

In August 1978, Safari Club International (SCI), a trophy hunting organization, applied to the Interior Department for a permit (later withdrawn) to allow its members to kill and import into the United States each year 1,125 animals from various endangered species. These included 25 tigers, 100 cheetahs, five gorillas, five orangutans, 150 African leopards, five clouded leopards, 10 snow leopards and 100 mountain zebras. Under pressure from SCI, Interior is in the process of removing the African leopard from the endangered list to allow the import of leopard "trophies."

Although the grizzly bear is on the Interior Department's list of threatened species, the state of Montana still issues about 1,000 grizzy bear hunting permits each year, which represents perhaps double the number of grizzlies left in the lower 48 states. (The season is ostensibly closed after 25 grizzlies have been "taken," but most of the bears killed each year are shot illegally and/or never reported.)

And what about that old argument -- the one hunters always bring up -- about hunting being necessary to keep deer herds healthy and in check?

The main reason some areas temporarily end up with more deer than the habitat can support is that wildlife management officials deliberately try to create a "surplus" of deer -- through stocking programs, timber cutting and other such manipulating of habitat -- in order to stimulate a demand for and sell, a maximum number of hunting licenses, their main source of revenue.

Moreover, animals in national parks -- where there is no hunting or trapping -- generally get along just fine without being subjected to periodic slaughter. Sometimes it appears that the greatest threat to the hunting ethic is an unhunted, unmanaged, healthy deer herd.

What is not in dispute about deer hunting is that, despite the constantly repeated claim about hunting being necessary to prevent over population and starvation of deer, few, if any, hunters seek out the starving deer the one that won't make it through the winter. Most want to kill the largest and strongest deer they can find, the 12-point buck whose antlers will look best on the wall, the one the species needs most to survive and evolve.

Does hunting finance conservation, as the gun lobby and hunting advocates throughout government and the news media repeatedly claim?

By far, most of the funds raised by hunting and put into "conservation" programs go for bogus research and "management" projects designed to produce a "harvestable surplus" of game animals, mainly deer. This is done at the expense of other wildlife populations, and far more money goes to destroy and damage habitat than to protect it.

This is made clear by the Interior Department in its summer 1978 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the federal aid to states for fish and wildlife restoration, the so-called Pittman-Robertson program.

The DEIS makes it clear that relatively little of this money, only about one-seventh of the funds, goes to buy up or acquire habitat for wildlife, Much of the rest of the money goes for such things as habitat destruction and degradation in the form of road building and maintenance, pesticide spraying, fencing, controlled burning and timber cutting and bulldozing.

The way these funds are being spent should shock hunters and nonhunters alike. The projected number of acres to be subjected to controlled burning for 1975-1985 comes to more than 6 million at a cost of $10 million. From 1975-1985, an estimated half-million acres will be poisoned with pesticides, herbicides and other toxic chemicals at a cost of more than $7 million; about 2 million acres will be buldozed or otherwise degraded by tractors and other mechanical devices at a cost of more than $45 million; and more than 264,000 acres of timber will be cut at a cost of almost $7 million.

And we hear so often of the "success" of such "conservation programs" as reintroducing pheasant and wild turkey to an area, but we seldom hear that such programs often involve killing off the local predators -- foxes, coyotes, racoons and any pet dogs and cats that happen along --by poisoning, trapping and shooting, in order to guarantee the propagation of the introduced "game" species.

The gun lobby is constantly talking about the "rights" of hunters. But what about the rights of farmers, homeowners and ordinary people who just like to take a walk in the woods or take their families on a picnic without outfitting them in helmets and bullet-proof vests?

It is impossible to ascertain the amount of pain and suffering hunters cause the countless millions of animals each year which are wounded and escape to die a slow and agonizing death. Not to mention the millions of orphaned and crippled animals that fill the woods at the end of the hunting season. And when one thinks about it, what sport is there in shooting defenseless, harmless wild animals with a high-powered rifle?

Increasingly, the public is turning to shooting with a camera; the "trophy" lasts-forever and nothing gets hurt.