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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Make-A-Wish foundation has quietly reversed a policy that allowed the organization to send ill children on hunting trips.
The policy change is the latest chapter involving Make-A-Wish's decision to grant Erik Ness, of White Bear Township, Minn., a chance to hunt brown bears in Alaska in 1996.
The hunt was condemned by animal-rights groups around the world. Ness died last July at age 21 of brain cancer, but not before he completed his Alaska dream hunt.
Make-A-Wish officials defended their hunting policy at the time, saying they wouldn't give in to animal-rights ``terrorists.'' Death and bomb threats were received by foundation staff and the Ness family.
But last January, the Make-A-Wish board of directors reversed the policy and prohibited chapters from granting wishes involving hunting, shooting or sport-shooting equipment, including archery gear.
Petri Darby of the Phoenix-based charity, said the decision was made for safety reasons -- not because of pressure from animal-rights groups.
``Our national board determined we are not the appropriate organization to put a firearm in the hands of a child who might be weakened by medication (or other treatments) for illnesses,'' he said. ``We don't decide policies based on concerns from advocacy groups.''
Some hunting groups are skeptical.
``If safety is the issue, then they shouldn't send anybody on a wish involving a vehicle,'' said Dan Treb, of Delano, regional representative for the Safari Club International.
``Make-A-Wish is obviously caving in to pressure from the animal-rights organizations,'' said Treb, whose group helped raise money for Ness' two bear hunts in Alaska.
Treb said Safari Club International still will donate money to Make-A-Wish, but added the group is ``clearly disappointed.''
Darby said the criticism of the policy change wasn't fair because Make-A-Wish isn't opposed to legal hunting or shooting. In the past 20 years, the foundation has granted a dozen different hunting wishes, including an Alaska moose-hunting trip to a 17-year-old Pennsylvania boy in 1996.
He said Make-A-Wish will continue to forward hunting wishes to other hunting or firearms organizations that can accommodate them.
Heidi Prescott, national director of the New York-based Fund for Animals, called the hunting policy reversal ``a wonderful victory'' for animal-rights groups.
Erik's father, Brock, said he was disappointed that national Make-A-Wish officials ``bowed to the animal-rights groups and their supporters,'' but he encouraged the public to continue to support the foundation.
Erik Ness didn't shoot a bear on his first trip to Alaska, but was successful during his second trip sponsored by Safari Club. The club also started the Erik Ness Scholarship Fund that will pay for other hunts for ill children.