Among the great divides that separate our state between urban and rural, and from rural to suburban, one is found in last week's Washington state appeals court ruling on two initiatives...

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Among the great divides that separate our state between urban and rural, and from rural to suburban, one is found in last week’s Washington state appeals court ruling on two initiatives that handily won voter approval.

The two initiatives — I won’t bore you with their ballot numbers — easily passed at the polls in 1996 and 2000 and now passed muster with the courts. One banned the use of dogs and bait in hunting, the other banned poisons and certain kinds of traps. Oddly enough, the bans include some traps for moles and gophers invading lawns and golf courses. This could be the signal of a melding of the interests of the NRA with the PGA.
In fact, it signals the ease of voter initiatives to target a single activity and make it illegal.

In this season, just passing from fall to winter, a segment of our state — let’s call it the Bush precincts — understands instinctively that the hunting horn is sounding. To grasslands and mountain forest, the annual hunt is the ritual of rural life, a life passing with suburban growth and urban dominance of the voting booth.

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The attempt to overturn bans on certain kinds of hunting and trapping was supported by 13 hunting and fishing organizations, The Associated Press reported. They fear the erosion of legal hunting is steady and probably inevitable given the growth of the state’s population and where people choose to live.

The hunting culture, for it is surely a legitimate cultural group just as there is a car culture and a monorail culture, is a declining minority in fast-growing states. While millions of Americans hunt every year, that number continues to decline in the face of less open land and more restrictions. It is the loss of connection to the wild places that city dwellers should lament, but don’t.

The ad campaign in Washington against hunting with hounds, for example, was full of visual appeal to the Walt Disney School of Environmental Science. While the proponents of the ban insisted they were not against all forms of hunting, it was clear that bans on selected hunting practices are a national effort tied to a broader repudiation of hunting as a normal activity.

It’s true that I hunted in my youth on the fields of the Midwest and the snows of Northern Michigan for ringnecks and rabbits, and for ptarmigan in the wintered forests. We hunted off snowshoes and in waders, sometimes behind dogs and sometimes solo, a boot hunter or two crossing corn stubble, the wind a pinch on the ear.

Hunting has passed me by, but not the memory of it and the good luck of doing it when my legs were sturdier and the land spread ahead in folded accordions of fields and forest.

The Washington hunting season got off pretty well this year: good duck hunting on the Skagit and decent elk hunting through the November season, the reports said. For hunters, the culture survives another year.

Surviving is the key word. The region’s growth, linked to conservation and preservation of forests for urban appeal, is not philosophically connected to hunters. Hunting organizations — those true conservationists on behalf of their particular harvest — still carry enough weight and numbers in the state to keep the sport legal and alive.

But as we can see in the appellate court decision on hunting and trapping bans, the initiative process favors groups that ask voters to limit hunting — I think on the way toward eliminating all but a little bit of it. The key to the American hunter has been access to the woodlands, not through the expense of private hunting clubs but through the use of public land for a cultural practice, like fishing or mushroom picking.

Without public hunting, the sport dies, or becomes limited to privacy behind closed gates. That’s not good for the state or its people, including the last of the boot culture.

James F. Vesely’s column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: jvesely@seattletimes.com. Look for more of his thoughts on the STOP blog, our editorial online journal at www.seattletimes.com/stop