An animal-rights activist who launched a statewide campaign against caged-pigeon shoots last year is taking aim at a new controversy: the state's program of raising and releasing pheasants for controlled hunting.
Plano businessman Steve Hindi said Friday that he and a group of about 20 other activists will use "any nonviolent means necessary" to disrupt a state-sponsored pheasant hunt scheduled for today at the Des Plaines Conservation Area south of Joliet.
Under the controlled-hunting program, administered by the Illinois Department of Conservation, the state raises more than 100,000 pheasants annually for release in conservation areas throughout the state, where hunters can shoot at them for a $15 fee.
Hindi argued at a Statehouse news conference Friday that the roughly $400,000 loss the state takes annually on the program makes the practice fiscally unsound, as well as inhumane.
"These birds are not wild. They're much more closely related to chickens" than wild pheasants, Hindi said. "It is indefensible from an environmental standpoint, it is indefensible from a tax standpoint, and it is certainly indefensible from humane-treatment-of-animals standpoint."
Hindi said he and the other activists will follow pheasant hunters at the conservation area today and attempt to scare the pheasants away before they can be killed.
Hindi was joined at the news conference by Myer Taksel, an animal-rights activist and agriculture instructor on sabbatical from the University of Maine. After running a short video showing the tame, state-raised pheasants milling around in a chicken-wire cage, Taksel blasted the program.
"All of the sudden, they're supposed to be wild game" after they are released for the hunt, Taksel said. "They don't know any more about being wild game than we do. It's a slaughter program."
Taksel said he hopes to be arrested at the protest today, in order to challenge laws that prevent the harassment of hunters.
Hindi said Conservation Department officials were invited to the news conference to give their side of the controversy, but they declined.
Later, a Conservation spokeswoman defended the controlled-hunting program.
"Among the statutory duties of the Department of Conservation is providing residents with outdoor recreation," said Conservation spokeswoman Anne Mueller. The program is the only chance some people have to hunt, she said. "Mr. Hindi is entitled to his opinion," she said. "But the department . . . is providing a service to Illinois residents."
Hindi made news last year when he led protests near Peoria and in other parts of the state against caged-pigeon shoots, in which live pigeons are catapulted out of small boxes and into the gunfire of participants, who pay an entry fee for the chance to shoot at the birds.
Although those events were conducted by private organizations, they were licensed by the state.
However, that situation apparently changed late last year, when the General Assembly repealed the statute under which the sport was sanctioned. In September, the Illinois attorney general's office issued an informal opinion that live pigeon shoots no longer are legal in Illinois.