A proposed Constitutional amendment to “Establish the Right to Hunt and Fish” drew angry testimony from the anti-hunting and anti-trapping crowd.
“This bill is barbaric,” testified John Glowa of China, who called LD 11 “the worst piece of legislation I have seen in more than twenty years of coming before this committee, and I have seen some bad ones.” Glowa also called the bill “the poison fruit of the paranoia seed planted by the out-of-state gun lobby and by radical extremist consumptive users.”
And yes, that was way over the top. Katie Hansberry of the Humane Society of the United States, who is always well-prepared and courteous in her work at the legislature, testified “The Humane Society of the United States has worked with wildlife management agencies across the U.S. to combat poaching. And in recent years, we joined sportsmen and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to crack down on poaching by helping Maine become the first state in New England to join the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact.
“We are concerned that putting a right to hunt in our constitution could amount to an open invitation for poachers to exploit it to their advantage, and could subject longstanding conservation laws to legal challenge from those arguing that this constitutional right exempts them from existing restrictions like bag limits or prohibitions on spotlight or road hunting. Unnecessarily putting this existing right into our constitution could invite lawsuits from individuals who want to argue that conservation laws on quotas, season closures, or land area closures could infringe upon their constitutional right to hunt and fish,” said Katie.
Karen Coker of WildWatch Maine joined in the criticism of the bill, testifying that, “It’s intent… is to silence Maine citizens concerned about unethical practices and to prevent citizens from initiating ballot initiatives on wildlife issues.” She said “This proposal’s vague terms open the door to inhumane, unethical trapping and hunting practices,” and called the bill “a legal nightmare.” She also insisted that “hunting and trapping and fishing are not fundamental rights.”
She might have a disagreement with Katie Hansberry on that, because Katie testified that “Mainers already have the right to hunt and fish.”
Tim Peabody, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, surprised some supporters by testifying “neither for nor against” the bill. He called hunting and fishing “significant privileges” here in Maine.
Tim also noted that last year the legislature amended the Department’s mission statement to include the direction to “use regulated hunting, fishing and trapping as the basis for the management of these resources whenever feasible.” That was a significant victory for hunting, trappers, and anglers.
Tim questioned “How would this bill, and the resulting constitutional rights affect existing hunting laws, landowner’s rights, or the Department of Health and Human Services ability to enforce child support obligations by suspending licenses? The precise answer to these and many more unanticipated questions likely will not be supplied until these issues are tested in court. In the face of the unknown, I hope the Committee and the Legislature as a whole proceeds with caution.”
He summed up his testimony with this statement: “We urge careful consideration of the possible impacts of the current privilege enjoyed by all law abiding sportsmen and women. There is a distinct difference between a privilege and a right,” he said.
Supporters of LD 11 including the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, National Rifle Association, and Maine Professional Guides Association.
Rep. Steve Wood, a member of the IFW Committee, sponsored and spoke for the bill, testifying “I’ve proposed this bill as an attempt to join 21 other states around the country which guarantee the right to hunt and fish in their constitutions; most recently Kansas and Indiana.” Steve distributed a fact sheet about state constitutional amendments and the right to hunt and fish.
Dave Trahan emphasized that LD 11 is a SAM bill, not an NRA bill as some opponents charged. He took the committee through a bit of history of wildlife management in this country, noting that “conservationists and sportsmen of conscience” supported the Pitman-Robertson Act which established an excise tax on outdoor gear, a tax that has directed $3 billion to wildlife management agencies including Maine’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department.
“Hunting, trapping and fishing regulations have existed for less than half the life of this country,” testified Dave. “They were not put in place by the courts or a constitutional ruling and certainly not established to give governments the sovereignty over wild creatures; to the contrary, sportsmen and conservationists willfully placed these limits on wildlife consumption because they recognized the value in our natural world and wanted to insure that they would be around for future generations.
“This Constitutional Proposition is before you because animal rights organizations are trying to change that narrative and history… They believe hunting and fishing are cruel and inhumane, but readily accept the slow, vicious and terrifying death of wild animals through starvation, disease or to be torn apart by wild predators.” Said Dave.
Rep. Karl Ward testified for the bill, reporting that, “As of today, twenty two states now guarantee the People’s Right to Hunt and Fish in their State Constitutions. Vermont enacted this in 1777. The other seventeen – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming have passed amendment to their Constitutions since 1996. Indiana and Kansas passed this amendment last year. Texas and Nevada the year before.”
It will take a 2/3 vote in both the House and Senate to place this Constitutional amendment on the ballot, and the people will make the deciding decision.
I am concerned about the amount of money that will need to be raised to win this ballot fight, but there’s a long way to go before we have to be concerned about that.