HOPKINTON, R.I. (AP) _ Residents of this small rural town have decided to retain a generations-old bounty on woodchuck noses, despite animal rights groups' pleas to abolish an ''archaic and morally repugnant tradition.''

Monday night's 87-61 vote to keep the 15-cent bounty was a blow to the Rhode Island Animal Rights Coalition and other animal rights groups, which worked to have the bounty abandoned.

Coalition spokesman Steve Ruggeri said the meeting was the last chance to argue ''against the preservation of the archaic and morally repugnant tradition of offering 15 cents for every woodchuck nose surrendered to the town clerk.''

Last month, Ruggeri tried but failed to convince the Hopkinton Town Council to delete the bounty appropriation from the town budget.

The largely rural town in the southwest corner of Rhode Island has paid the bounty for 200 years. Defenders of the practice, abandoned long ago by other Rhode Island communities, describe it as a rite of passage for the town's youth that helps control the toothy rodents that munch on vegetables and dig holes that can break horses' legs.

Before the vote, Ruggeri said the bounty corrupts Hopkinton youngsters.

''It has the potential to desensitize impressionable youths to the pain and suffering of animals by promoting the pernicious notion that non-human animals are not worthy of any moral consideration, but exist solely as objects to be exploited for frivolous self-gain,'' he said.

Following last month's Town Council refusal to delete the $25 bounty appropriation from the budget, Ruggeri mailed 400 postcards to residents urging them to turn out for the financial meeting and vote against the bounty.

Last year, Town Clerk Josephine Langworthy paid bounty on 40 woodchuck noses and already has paid the first for this year.