Friday, October 12, 2012

Are hunting, trapping and fishing inalienable rights?

Ballot question to decide constitutional amendment

Express Staff Writer

Hunters walk through woods near Ketchum while hunting game birds earlier this fall. Photo by Willy Cook

Idaho residents will decide on Nov. 6 whether the rights to hunt, fish and trap should be guaranteed by the state constitution.

Last March, the Idaho Legislature passed a joint resolution known as HJR2a. The resolution passed after weeks of debate and several amendments, but was eventually approved with what the National Rifle Association called “overwhelming support” in the Senate and the House.  

But the resolution was only to put the question of whether Idahoans should have the constitutional right to hunt, trap and fish on the November ballot, not to actually amend the constitution.

On Nov. 6, in addition to making decisions about the next president and a local-option tax to support air service, Blaine County residents will join with voters statewide to answer this question:

“Shall Article 1 of the Constitution of the State of Idaho be amended by the addition of a New Section 23, to provide that the rights to hunt, fish and trap, including by the use of traditional methods, are a valued part of the heritage of the State of Idaho and shall forever be preserved for the people and managed through the laws, rules and proclamations that preserve the future of hunting, fishing and trapping; to provide that public hunting, fishing and trapping of wildlife shall be a preferred means of managing wildlife…?”

The amendment goes on to specify that the language does not prohibit the suspension of hunting, fishing or trapping licenses.

A vote of “no” on this question dismisses the proposed amendment and leaves the Idaho Constitution as it is. A vote of “yes” would support making hunting, fishing and trapping constitutional rights, though those rights would be governed through existing laws and whatever rules and seasons are set by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.

Mike Keckler, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said the amendment would likely not make a practical difference to agency operations.

“We retain legal authority to regulate wildlife,” he said. “Those who want to partake in those activities must purchase a license and are subject to legal-take laws as well.”

Keckler said the agency has not taken a stance on the issue—as a public agency, it is prevented by law from taking a position—but the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, which sets policy for the agency, has stated its support.

In a letter released to media organizations on Oct. 3, members of the seven-person bipartisan commission stated that they “strongly support” the proposed amendment.

“Hunting, fishing and trapping have always been and remain important parts of our heritage and the fabric of Idaho,” the letter states. “It’s important for Idahoans to act now to ensure future generations an opportunity to experience Idaho’s sporting heritage.”

The letter also says that in other states, “opposition groups” have “sought to hijack wildlife management” by limiting or eliminating hunting, trapping and fishing. This amendment would prevent that, according to the commission, and would help the commission continue to “preserve, protect, perpetuate and manage” Idaho’s wildlife.

Opponents of the amendment, however, say that the rights to hunt, trap and fish are not in any danger and that an amendment to the constitution would not only be pointless, but potentially dangerous.

A group called No on HJR2 has fought the amendment since it was approved, and organization chair Greg Moore said there are no threats to hunting, fishing or trapping in Idaho.

“It’s not going to happen,” he said about the idea of the commission ever voting to eliminate any of the activities.

(Moore works as a copyeditor for the Idaho Mountain Express but did not participate in editing this story.)

Moore said there is no point in adding an amendment to the Idaho Constitution that would preserve Idaho “traditions.” He stated in a news release that the constitution should be reserved for “protecting basic human rights,” such as the freedoms of speech, assembly and religion—not recreational activities.

“We could clutter up the constitution with all sorts of things we’ve always done,” he said in an interview.

Moore added that though he has a moral objection to trapping animals—mostly because trapped animals can suffer for days before a trapper returns to kill them—he does not oppose the activities so much as the amendment.

“I have no objection to people hunting and fishing,” he said. “I am not a vegetarian. But [this amendment] is a bad way to govern.”

The issue will be decided during the election on Tuesday, Nov. 6. The proposal must approval of a simple majority to pass.

Kate Wutz:

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