Springfield, Ill. (UPI) – Animal rights activists Monday called for the resignation of Illinois Department of Conservation Director Brent Manning and his spokesperson, charging the department deliberately thwarted local efforts to stop an illegal LaSalle County pigeon shoot last month.
"What should have been another local animal abuser story became another DOC scandal, which this time approaches obstruction of justice, "said Steve Hindi, spokesman for the Chicago Animal Rights Coalition.
Members of the coalition claimed a local conservation officer told county law enforcers that the privately run pigeon shoots were legal, despite a recent written opinion by Attorney General Roland Burris to the contrary.
Hindi said his group tipped Seneca police to the pigeon shoot. Police called La Salle Conservation Officer Mark Walczynski, who said the hunt was licensed. Hindi said he then contacted Knowles, who told him the department considers pigeon shoots to be legal.
Knowles denied Hindi's charges, saying the agency no longer regulates pigeon shoots.
"I said it hadn't been challenged in court. The attorney general sent an informal writing to the Will County State's Attorney in this regard. He believes they are illegal but again, that, as anything else has to go through the court system," Knowles said.
Hindi said DOC's actions in the Seneca case amount to "incomprehensible arrogance," turning a blind eye to hunters who use animals as target practice. In pigeon shoots, hunters compete for cash and prizes by shooting pigeons as they are catapulted out of boxes. One such event in Canton last year killed more than 10,000 birds over a four-day period, Hindi said.
He said children as young as seven are employed to kill wounded birds by twisting their necks or stomping them. A shoot in Hegins, Pa. last year also served as a recruiting drive for the Ku Klux Klan, he said.
DOC issued permits for pigeon shoots until legislators revoked those regulations last year, placing the sport under the venue of the state's Humane Care for Animals Act.
In a September opinion requested by the Will County State's Attorney, Burris said the revocation now makes pigeon shoots illegal under the act.
That law prohibits raising or capturing animals for the purpose of killing them for sport. The question now being debated, Hindi said, is whether the law applies to pigeons.
Knowles said no court has ruled on the matter, but Hindi said the law clearly covers all animals.
"This is the way your write laws, to cover everything. We have a law that says you can't murder people – it doesn't have to say you can't murder men, you can't murder children."
"It covers the whole shot, you can't murder people. A pigeon has all the protection with regards to this type of exhibition as does a cat or a dog," he contended.
Hindi said his group will ask Burris to prosecute the organizers of the LaSalle county shoot and demand that local officials start enforcing the law.
Burris spokesman Ernie Slottag said it is up to the La Salle County State's Attorney to decide whether to prosecute the case. He said the law—and Burris's interpretation of it—should stand until a court rules otherwise.
Knowles said Hindi should appeal to local officials and the state Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Humane Act. She called Hindi's charges an attempt to stir up publicity for his cause.
"I think Mr. Hindi is very interested in his topic. He would like to see pigeon shoots end, and I think that he's doing what he can to get media attention for that," Knowles said.
"I don't think that his suggestion (for resignations) is serious. We're certainly not going to take it seriously," she said.
DOC Director Manning was not available for comment Monday, Knowles said.