September 20, 2018

Getting the Best Constitutional Amendment for Right to Hunt, Fish and Trap

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V. Paul Reynolds, in his weekly article in the Sun Journal, indicates efforts are underway to introduce legislative action in the Maine Congress for a constitutional amendment aimed at helping to protect the right of Maine residents to hunt, fish and trap. I’ve been calling for this for many years now, as have several others.

I’ve also had a few brief communications with George Smith, outdoor writer and outdoor sports activist, in which he asked me a few questions about the ideas of an amendment. He also has indicated that an effort is underway to propose a constitutional amendment.

If an amendment can even survive the Maine legislature, it has to be the right amendment. It is pointless to jump through all the hoops and spend the time, effort and money to get an amendment passed, if, in the end, the amendment doesn’t do what I believe it is that sportsmen and citizens expect.

But first let’s look at what an amendment will not do. It will not prohibit the right of the people to petition. Some fear such amendments will do that, when in fact, what the amendment, if written properly, will do, is better define what the people of Maine want and expect as it pertains to hunting, fishing and trapping. It would not, if written properly, unconstitutionally prohibit the right to petition.

The three major positives, in my opinion, that can come from a properly written amendment, are explained below.

1. An amendment clearly defines what the Maine people want and expect.

2. An amendment written that acknowledges that Maine residents want game animals for consumptive use, within the regulations for that purpose by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, sends a message to radical animal rights and environmental groups that this means enough to the Maine people that they went to the effort of providing that guarantee in their constitution. This would not end lawsuits, but might deter others. It will not prohibit the right to petition.

3. Of most importance in an amendment must be a clear directive that any official Maine fish and wildlife department must manage game species for surplus harvest. Let me explain. I have been involved with and studied constitutional amendments in other states that have them. An amendment of this kind, if it is going to do as residents want, has to do more that simply recognize a “right” to hunt, trap and fish. Some states have such amendments, some of which state that fish and game departments must manage wildlife to provide “opportunities” to fish, hunt and trap. Stop and think for a moment exactly what that means.

An opportunity to hunt fish and trap, does not result in a harvest, for consumptive use. Herein, lies one of the problems with enacting these amendments. As wildlife agencies nationwide morph more and more towards providing opportunities for bird watching, an amendment without a mandate to manage game for surplus harvest, results in going on a wildlife watching tour and carrying a gun, fishing rod or bag of traps merely for the exercise. It is my opinion that an amendment of this kind is to deter lawsuits, protect a heritage and provide sustenance for those wanting and needing to eat game and to ensure that fish and game departments manage for those purposes, not just “opportunities.”

An amendment with real teeth, that will keep sportsmen happy and continuing to pay the bills for the fish and game departments, must guarantee that a fish and game department will do everything in its power to manage game species for surplus harvest. It is my opinion that anything short of that will not accomplish what I believe sportsmen want and in the long run what people who understand how successful the North American Model of Wildlife Management has been, want as well.

The argument has often been used by animal rights and environmental groups that less than 10% of the people hunt. Combined hunting, trapping and fishing, I’m sure provides a percentage higher than 10%, however, the vast majority of citizens understand what’s at stake and support this plan.

In 2012 Idaho passed an amendment. It did not include the “teethy” mandate for surplus harvest management requirements. However, that amendment easily passed with nearly 80% of the voters indicating they favored such an amendment.

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