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Animal-Rights Groups Incensed By Ideas in Wildlife Curriculum

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A wildlife-education program officially sponsored by 33 states has come under attack by animal-rights advocates who say the program's activity guides are slanted in favor of pro-hunting attitudes.

But those who developed the program say it takes a neutral stance on value-laden issues and has even been criticized by some hunting advocates for what they see as an anti-hunting bias.

"Project wild," as the supplementary curriculum is known, was developed two years ago by the Western Regional Environmental Education Council (wreec) with funding from the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (wafwa).

wreec is a nonprofit organization of representatives of state departments of education and natural-resources agencies in 13 Western states. wafwa is an organization of fish and wildlife agencies in the same states.

According to Cheryl Charles, the national director of Project wild, 33 states, most recently Nebraska, have officially agreed to sponsor the program. In return for a $7,000 fee, the states receive teachers' manuals that describe activities that can be used in regular courses, such as science, mathematics, or English.

For example, in an exercise called: "What Did Your Lunch Cost Wildlife," teachers are instructed to have students trace food sources and diagram environmental impacts.

In all, Ms. Charles said, the 81 elementary-school activities and 87 secondary-school activities "are designed to help students understand what animals need in order to survive, the characteristics and importance of habitats, and the choices we as humans have in order to keep a healthy environment for people and wildlife over the long term."

"It is not a program that advocates hunting," she added. "And wherever it is mentioned, people are encouraged to decide for themselves how they feel."

'Insidious Propaganda'

Nevertheless, the most vocal of Project wild's critics is Friends of Animals, a national animal-welfare organization based in New Jersey. According to Susan Russell, the group's vice president, Project wild contains "insidious propaganda" and represents "a concerted effort to reverse anti-hunting trends and children's natural love of animals."

One exercise they oppose, Ms. Russell said, is "Make A Coat," in which animals and trees are described as "renewable resources."

The group, which claims to have sent letters protesting the program to every school board in the country, to 15,000 parent-teacher associations, and to every school-board member in New Jersey--where the program was instituted this year--would like to see it abolished, Ms. Russell said.

But Miriam Dunne, the Project wild coordinator in New Jersey and an official in the state's division of fish, game and wildlife, said the humane groups "don't give teachers enough credit for doing their job professionally, which is to provide students with information from all points of view, to allow them to make their own informed decisions."

In a 50-page critique of the program released last week, several animal-welfare organizations joined the 300,000-member Humane Society of the United States in calling for a moratorium on its use.

"We think there's a substantial amount of valuable information in Project wild, but we think overall that the material is so biased, inaccurate, and in essence omits so much salient material that it ought not to be used until those matters have been corrected," said John W. Grandy of the Humane Society of the United States.

According to the critique, "words like 'resource,' 'harvest,' and 'manage,' are used repeatedly throughout the activities." Such words, it continues, "represent the jargon of a very specific philosophy that perceives wild animals as commodities that can and should be manipulated to allow consumptive use by humans."

Surprise at Negative Response

Ms. Charles said she is surprised by the negative response to the program. She suggested that the intensity of the disagreement may stem from the fact that "traditionally, environmental education in the United States has not overlapped with humane education--the teaching of how to treat animals fairly."

"I'm recognizing," she added, "that we now have an opportunity to work on that. I'm not sure the humane organizations are seeing it that way and I'm not sure the environmental organizations are seeing it that way. But we on Project wild are in the middle of it."

Changes Likely

Ms. Charles said changes are likely to be made in the third annual printing of the manuals in response to the concerns raised.

One such concern was the exercise "The Hunters," which asks secondary-school students to read two short stories and then examine their attitudes toward hunting. In one story, a young boy shoots a deer rather than see it starve to death. The other, which depicts a deer hunt as a rite of manhood, ends with: "I am free to believe and know the secret pulsing in the hot flowing blood the hunter hunts. Somewhere, the red living waters of the pure-eyed deer wait for me."

The exercise, Ms. Charles said, "is certainly open to revision. The Hunters in particular is an activity people who are pro-hunting don't like, too, because it paints an emotional portrait of hunting."

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