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Gov. Stan Stephens may be forcing a polarization of Montanans in calling for a national conference on the anti-hunting movement, spokesmen for some environmental groups said Monday, although they said their members generally support hunting.

"In the absence of sufficient habitat and of predators, hunting is a way of controlling animal populations," said Emily Sieger of Bozeman, president of the Montana Wildlife Association."There's not a single environmental organization (in Montana) that I know of that's opposed to hunting."

People can be against trophy or bison hunting, but still favor hunting in general, Sieger said.

Nevertheless, she and others said, a pro-hunting conference could lead to polarization if Montanans were forced to take a stand either for all types of hunting or against all hunting.

In a speech in Denver Saturday night, Stephens suggested that the Missoula-based Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the United Conservation Alliance jointly sponsor such a conference in Montana in the summer of 1992.

"It is time to air this issue in full view of the American people in a land where hunting and wildlife conservation are inseparable," Stephens told a banquet audience of more than 1,000 members of the elk foundation.

Stephens' press secretary, Victor Bjornberg, said Monday that the United Conservation Alliance is a coalition of sportsmen's groups and hunting interests formed this year to battle anti-hunting interests.

Bjornberg said the time and place of the conference could not be determined until directors of the alliance consider the invitation later this spring.

The Fund for Animals, headquartered in New York City, is the catalyst for fears that those against hunting might gain enough support to outlaw all hunting in Montana. The organization has filed a federal lawsuit against Montana's bison management plan, which calls for hunters and Yellowstone Park rangers to kill bison that wander out of the park into Montana.

Stephens' call for a national meeting reflects "the paranoia of some within the state," he said.