States to Vote on Right to Hunt & Fish Amendments
Voters in four states on Tuesday will decide whether they want to enshrine a “right to hunt and fish” in their state constitutions. Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska and Wyoming all have ballot measures at the polls on Election Day asking if voters want to add constitutional language to protect residents’ rights to bag deer, ducks, bass and other game, and prevent attempts to restrict those rights.
Some 37.4 million Americans participated in hunting and fishing sports in 2011, according to a 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The ballot measures are backed by the National Rifle Association as well as other sporting groups in what they describe as efforts to head off future erosion of hunting and fishing rights by animal rights’ lobbyists. According to the NRA’s legislative arm, the amendments would “protect the citizens’ hunting heritage from attacks initiated by well-funded anti-hunting extremists who have assailed sportsmen throughout the country in recent years.”
The Human Society has spoken out against the measures, stating, “The constitution should guarantee fundamental democratic rights, not provide protection for a recreational pastime.”
Thirteen states already consider hunting and fishing a constitutionally protected right. Almost all have been amendments to state constitutions since 1996, with one lone exception; Vermont was on the cutting edge of hunting rights when it included the language in its constitution in 1777. Mississippi is set to consider adding a similar amendment two years from now, and a number of other states have introduced legislation since 2008 to start the amendment process.
“[These amendments] would help preserve the future of hunting and fishing sports for future generations and head off frivolous litigation brought by animal rights’ activists,” says Stephen P. Halbrook, a Washington, D.C., area attorney who has been involved in the litigation for a number of right to hunt, well as high-profile Second Amendment cases.
An Ancient Sport
Those pushing for right-to-hunt rules acknowledge there’s no current existential threat to outdoor sports, but want to block any challenge that could come down the pipe in the future.
“This is primarily to get ahead of the curve. The so-called animal rights movement is pretty strong in this country,” Halbrook says. “Across the country they’re doing litigation, filing lawsuits against hunts or the hunting of specific kinds of game.”
The amendments do not preclude states from regulating hunting. However, they do contain provisions that check what limits and regulations could be imposed. The language on the Kentucky amendment, for example, would only allow rules that have the purpose of “wildlife conservation and management and preserving the future of hunting and fishing,” and would block any attempt to outlaw “traditional” hunting methods, such as archery.
“Another aspect is to make sure the experts in fish and wildlife are the ones doing scientific research and making decisions, as opposed to seeing politically charged decisions,” Halbrook says.
The backers of the ballot measures also want to highlight the role of hunting and fishing in wilderness conservation — if millions of people want to shoot a deer every year, there needs to be enough open space and habitat to support the population, incentivizing hunters to support conservation measures.
“It’s an ancient sport,” says Halbrook. “Hunting and fishing have been with human kind since there have been humans.”