The 2009 season opens today, but hunters are now limited to doves, pheasants and coots - a much-reduced list compared to past years. Last year, they were allowed to hunt doves, turtledoves, pheasants, coots, ducks and even the occasional wild boar. Hunters are coming together for their first-ever organized meeting on September 12. They plan to form a unified body capable of standing up to the Nature and Parks Authority, the organization charged with regulating sport hunting, which they feel is going too far with the restrictions it is putting into place. "We need a body to represent hunters against the NPA," said Afik Menahem, who said he had been hunting "since he can remember." Menahem also sees the group as a way to form a clear division between licensed sport hunters and those who hunt illegally. He feels that the two are too often grouped together. "A criminal is a criminal, and we aren't," he said. Roni Malka, head of the law enforcement division of the Nature and Parks Authority, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that the changes in hunting laws were inevitable, and that the changes should not have come as a surprise to any of the hunters. "We definitely said that this could happen," he said. "[I realize that] the hunters aren't happy, but we don't have anything left to give. It's not the best situation, but we can't give what isn't there. The number of animals is shrinking... There simply aren't any left to hunt. We are trying to safeguard the animals in relation to the amount of open space." Space is a major issue for both the NPA and the hunters. The areas open to hunting are strictly limited. Parks and nature reserves are off-limits, and hunters are not allowed within 500 meters of a settlement or 100 meters of a lone house or cemetery. Some areas that are home to endangered species are also closed to hunting. Menahem sees the area restrictions as yet another attempt by the NPA to limit hunters. "They want to close hunting areas, to limit us," he said. "It's not enough that our country is so small... the small area we have is being further trimmed." Changes have been coming to sport hunting for a long time. No new hunting licenses have been given out since 1996, in an attempt to reduce the number of hunters in the country. Malka claimed that this number currently stood at about 2,400, down from 6,300 when the NPA stopped granting new licenses. Hunters lose their licenses if they don't apply for a renewal within a year of their expiration. However, Malka said the environment could only sustain some 1,500 hunters. He also said that the list of animals that could be legally hunted had been shrinking for years. A temporary ban was placed on the hunting of rabbits and partridges in 2002 after notable population drops, and the bans became permanent in 2006. Malka told the Post last year that porcupines and gazelles had also been added to the restricted list in recent years. According to Menahem, the ban on hunting rabbits and partridges was one of the key reasons hunters needed to organize. "There was simply nobody that could stand up against the ban," he told the Post on Monday. He said that he understood the reasoning behind some of the bans put into place by the NPA, but added that he saw others as overkill. "The NPA will not let us hunt animals that are hunted all over the world - animals that are only forbidden to hunt in Israel," he said. "Animals that are not endangered or local." Malka realizes that the hunters are upset. "The hunters don't like when we do this, but we don't have a choice... [The most important thing to us is] protecting [animal] populations... If we see a population is weaker, we won't allow it to be hunted," he said. The hunters have clear goals they hope to achieve by unifying. Menahem says that they want the NPA to return to granting new hunting licenses, and for them to allow the hunting of non-endangered animals that were open for hunting in the past. He believes that the essence of sport hunting is simply enjoying the environment - a pleasure that he hoped would not be taken away from him. "It's truly a sport," he said. "[The point is] to go out to the wilderness, to see nature, to know every corner, to hike." Israel's hunting season runs from September 1 to December 31.