August 19, 2019

Testimony Given in Constitutional Amendment to Prohibit Wildlife Management via Ballot Referendum

Testimony of James Cote on behalf of the Maine Trappers Association in Support of a Constitutional Amendment to Protect Scientific Wildlife Management in Maine

April 6, 2015

Senator Cyrway, Representative Luchini, members of the Committee, my name is James Cote and I reside in Farmington, Maine. I am here today on behalf of the Maine Trappers Association in strong (and qualified) support of an amendment to the Maine Constitution to protect scientific wildlife management. While the term “strong” is self-explanatory, I will describe my use of the term “qualified” later in this testimony.

Two things are certain to me on this subject. The first is that the process of amending any constitution is not one to be undertaken lightly. I am a strong supporter of the people’s right to petition their government. The second is that the framers of Maine’s Constitution had no way to anticipate how our ballot initiative process would be abused in the modern day in an effort to exploit and politicize our public wildlife resources. It is because of that exploitation and politicization, that we come to you today and ask for your support of a constitutional amendment to protect scientific wildlife management in Maine.

Combine tone-deaf advocacy organizations with hundreds of millions of dollars in resources and sparsely populated rural states (like Maine) with large populations of charismatic fauna and you’ve got a recipe for disaster when it comes to wildlife management. What do I mean when I use the term tone deaf?

After losing a campaign to ban Maine’s three most effective methods of managing our bear population in 2004, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) came back in 2014 to do the very same thing. In context, HSUS spent about a million dollars in 2004, and they contributed over 99% of the roughly $2.8 million dollars of the Yes on 1 campaign in 2014. When they realized that they couldn’t overcome the public’s trust of DIFW, they filed a lawsuit just a few short weeks ahead of the election in an effort to grab a headline and get our Department to back down. Days later, they filed a request for a temporary restraining order to get ads with the Department taken off the air. That request was denied by Justice Joyce Wheeler of the Maine Superior Court. Again, not liking that they didn’t get their way, the Humane Society of the United States filed an appeal that decision. And just a few short weeks ago, an HSUS attorney told Justice Wheeler during the court’s status conference, that HSUS would be seeking another ballot initiative in 2016, despite the fact that Maine voters said no just 4 months prior. If there is one thing we know about HSUS, it is that they don’t care about electoral or legal precedence, and they make good on their threats. That’s scary when you think about the fact that their organization is worth roughly $200 million.

We Mainers have experienced this phenomenon on more than one occasion. Perhaps most notable have been the 1983 campaign to end Maine’s moose hunt, and the 2004 and 2014 campaigns to effectively end Maine’s bear hunt. On all three occasions, our Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIFW)—the officials and scientists that we entrust to manage our wildlife– opposed these ballot initiatives.

The 2014 campaign siphoned a tremendous amount of money out of Maine’s economy, and from the bank accounts of thousands of Maine people who sought to protect DIFW’s ability to manage our bear population. It would have undermined 40 years of nationally recognized bear management and research.

Our public opinion surveys, time and time again, showed the public trusted the biologists and game wardens at the DIFW to manage our wildlife far more than any other entity- more than professional guides, more than sportsman organizations, and yes, far more than the Humane Society of the United States.

The enabling legislation of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife provides Maine people with a constant safeguard should a constitutional amendment pass. Their enabling legislation reads:

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is established to preserve, protect and enhance the inland fisheries and wildlife resources of the State; to encourage the wise use of these resources; to ensure coordinated planning for the future use and preservation of these resources; and to provide for effective management of these resources.

To further subject Maine’s wildlife management to ballot initiative undermines the very purpose for that mission statement, and the existence of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. But that is exactly what the groups that put these initiatives on the ballot seek to achieve. They don’t want biologists to manage based on science, they want emotions to dictate how we manage. They will chip away, as they are doing in states all across the country, little by little until they get what they want, whether it’s good for the species or not. And all the while they will have drained otherwise productive resources from people who support our Department. In my opinion, that is an easy way to hold our wildlife hostage.

It is because of this statutory charge that we feel comfortable in asking you for this support of a constitutional amendment. An ideal amendment to our constitution would prohibit wildlife management at the ballot box, but would not prohibit public input or petition. You see, Mainers will still have many ways available to them to influence wildlife management:

1) Advocating at the Legislature.

2) Advocating at the Governor’s Office.

3) Working with DIFW officials in working groups.

4) Working with the DIFW Advisory Council on rulemaking changes.

5) Petitioning the DIFW to change a rule (in many cases a threshold of only 25 signatures of residents, sometimes more).

All of these options allow for public participation, but with the benefit of biological sideboards provided by the Department.

What prohibiting wildlife management by ballot initiative does is take the extreme amounts of money, distortion, and 30 second sound bites that we all know occur during campaigns and place the wildlife issue at hand in a more controlled policymaking environment. No less subject to public input and participation, but in a posture to consider more details from people on all sides of the issue. Our wildlife deserves that type of debate, not a war of television ads.

And now I’ll speak to the part about “qualified support”. I believe strongly, as do many others in this room, that this issue deserves lots of input. The two bills before you today are not perfect. Whether a constitutional amendment eventually gains your support or not, should be based on a thorough discussion with stakeholders and comprehensive legal analysis. As we enter the middle of April, I think it would be both reasonable and responsible, for all parties, to consider that the timeframe to consider such a significant policy is closing rapidly before the first session of the 127th Legislature adjourns sometime later this spring. Instead of rushing to a conclusion, we would request that this committee carry over either LD 754 or LD 1054 to the second session of the 127th Legislature. This process would allow more time for committee members and the Legislature to hear from constituents on the matter, to review policies and procedures at DIFW, to study the history of wildlife issues at the ballot box, to compare models from other states, and to have a more comprehensive discussion next year.

This decision is very important for the future of Maine’s wildlife. We can choose to subject Maine’s wildlife to be managed by whims at the ballot box, or we can safeguard our wildlife by making sure that the voice of the people and agency that we entrust with a statutory obligation to manage our wildlife for future generations are not buried under 30 second sound bites, laminated postcards, and special interest groups from away that have a determination to put more money in their political coffers and put an end to our storied outdoor heritage.

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Testimony Given in Right to Hunt Constitutional Amendment

Senator Paul Davis, Representative Michael Shaw, distinguished members of the committee on Inland Fisheries and wildlife.

Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. My name is Brett Patten and I am here to testify in support of LD753, a proposal that would amend Maine’s Constitution to protect an individual’s right to hunt, and fish. And, in concept, LD703 a proposal that would amend the constitution of Maine to protect the people’s right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife.

That being said, I feel here in Maine we pride ourselves on having strong beliefs as well as our own thoughts and ideas. That is why I’m asking you, when these bills go to work session that you make them our own. Make this “Maine’s Constitutional Amendment”, not Idaho’s, not Kentucky’s or any other state in the union, but Maine’s. There is a belief that similar Constitutional Amendments in other states, that are already in place, will work here in Maine, maybe they will, I don’t know. I do know this, in Maine we tend to do things our way, and not the way of others. This may be our best opportunity to do this so I would ask you to make this the best it can be.

Notwithstanding the fact that I am in favor of these bills, I am proposing the following changes in section 26 of the amendment and to the question that would appear on the ballot.
(Changes are in bold type)

Section 26. Right to hunt, fish, trap and harvest game and fish.
The right of the people of this state to hunt, fish, trap and harvest game and fish, including by the use of traditional methods, may not be infringed, subject to reasonable laws enacted by the legislature and reasonable rules adopted by the state agency designated for fish and wildlife management to promote wildlife conservation and management, to maintain natural resources in trust for public use and to preserve the future of hunting, fishing and trapping managing fish and game for surplus harvest. Public hunting, fishing and trapping are preferred means of managing, controlling and perpetuating fish and wildlife. This section may not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to eminent domain, trespass or property rights.

The question on the ballot would read like this:
“Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to provide that the right of the people of this state to hunt, fish, trap and harvest game and fish may not be infringed, subject to reasonable laws and rules, and to provide that public hunting, fishing and trapping are a preferred means of managing, controlling and perpetuating wildlife”?

I have hunted and fished in Maine most of my life and in recent years I’ve found a real love in trapping. I’m very proud to say I’m a registered Maine guide, a member of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the Maine Professional Guide’s Association and the Maine Trapper’s Association. Last year’s fight against the bear referendum showed me a lot about who we are as Mainer’s. Although I was sickened at the amount of money and resources wasted in last years fight, I’m very grateful that I got to be a part of, and see firsthand, the solidarity and determination it took to defeat the Humane Society of the United States, for the second time in 10 years. For those of you that may not know, the Maine trapper’s Association donated over $117,000.00 towards last years cause along with soliciting thousands more from other fraternal organization’s. Trapping is a valuable part of Maine’s wildlife conservation and has been for hundreds of years. The word “trap” and the word “trapping” deserve to be in this amendment.

Opponents of bills like these say, “A State’s Constitution should guarantee fundamental democratic rights, not provide protection for recreational pastimes.” I say, “Hunting, fishing, and trapping are not recreational pastimes, but they are rights, rights of the people of this great state that should be protected forever!”

I would ask you to please vote “ought to pass” with the few changes I have presented.

I would be happy to answer any questions that the committee may have.

Thank you all for your time and God bless.

Respectfully submitted,
Brett Patten

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Maine Should Try Some Originality in Their Quest for Constitutional Amendment

I read an article today from Texas. The link was sent to me by a reader. The article was an announcement of sorts of the Texas Legislature’s proposal for a constitutional amendment for the “right” to hunt, fish and trap. The proposal is HJR 61.

Here are the magic words:

“Sec.A34.AA(a) The people have the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, including by the use of traditional methods, subject to laws or regulations to conserve and manage wildlife and preserve the future of hunting and fishing. (b)AAHunting and fishing are preferred methods of managing and controlling wildlife. (c)AAThis section does not affect any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights, or eminent domain.”

Here is what one amendment proposal from Maine says: (LD 753)

“Section 26. Right to hunt, fish and harvest game and fish. The right of the people of this State to hunt, fish and harvest game and fish, including by the use of traditional methods, may not be infringed, subject to reasonable laws enacted by the Legislature and reasonable rules adopted by the state agency designated for fish and wildlife management to promote wildlife conservation and management, to maintain natural resources in trust for public use and to preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing are a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section may not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to eminent domain, trespass or property rights.”

Recently Idaho passed a constitutional amendment for the “right” to hunt, trap and fish:

“SECTION 23. THE RIGHTS TO HUNT, FISH AND TRAP. 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. Public hunting, fishing and trapping of wildlife shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. The rights set forth herein do not create a right to trespass on private property, shall not affect rights to divert, appropriate and use water, or establish any minimum amount of water in any water body, and shall not lead to a diminution of other private rights.”

Do you see what has happened? This wording is nearly verbatim to words adopted by other state fish and game departments. I am contending that these words are being deliberately pushed through any state seeking an amendment, including Maine.

I just don’t know how I can get people to realize what this wording does…..effectively nothing. Oh yeah, it MIGHT help to stop a couple of silly lawsuits here and there but will do nothing to protect a right and provide a means in which we can exercise that right. Carefully consider the language of each of these bill proposals and the Idaho amendment passed. Then picture a group of lawyers dissecting that language. Then I ask again, will this language guarantee anyone’s right to hunt, trap and fish? It’s no different than the Supreme Court of the United States declaring in Heller v. District of Columbia and NRA v. Chicago, that the Second Amendment is an individual right to keep and bear arms, and yet, what good is that right if you are not allowed to buy a gun in state or bring one in from someplace else or to be able to go outside and use it. Our “right” might be protected, but the ability to exercise it has been taken away.

Maine sportsmen and others, at least some, recognize that fish and game departments, with each passing year, are becoming nothing more than mouthpieces and useful idiots of the environmentalists. With this infiltration of environmentalism into every facet of our being, we are only a short time away from fish and game (i.e. “natural resources”) departments deciding to manage wildlife for non consumptive use. It’s happening! Open your eyes! And then where is the “right” to hunt, fish and trap? Yep! The right still exists but those “natural resource” managers have decided that “nature” can do a better job of managing and controlling ALL wildlife and that “non consumptive” use of a “public resource” will preserve that resource. What we will see is a gradual decrease in licenses or tags available and loss of opportunities.

But nobody gets it. I get emails from a few telling me I’m wrong. Telling me that those other states that have amendments, it’s working real good. Maybe, maybe not! But I can guarantee you, it hasn’t stopped the environmentalists from taking over fish and wildlife management.

I realize that few see it the way that I do and think me wrong, and I might be. But, it is my opinion that without specific wording that mandates the fish and wildlife department to manage wildlife for surplus harvest, I’m afraid the proposed wording will only prove to protect a right without a guarantee that that right can be exercised.

It is unfortunate that it appears that these state proposals for constitutional amendments resembles what we see in news media everyday – one news source (AP, Reuters) prints a story and the whole world accepts it and parrots it. Maine should think these proposals through better and come up with some original text that will do a better job if they really want to keep hunting, fishing and trapping into the future.

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SAM Proposing Legislation/Amendment to Stop HSUS Harassment

TrahanBelow is a video from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine with an explanation about five proposed bills the organization is supporting in which the goal is to force the collection of petition signatures to be done by only Maine residents and to close up, what SAM calls, other loopholes.

Another huge issue involves the proposal for a constitutional amendment to declare a right to hunt and fish. It seems there are more than one proposal and the three I have seen, as they now stand, I’m not too nuts about.

In this video, David Trahan, executive director for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, states that the SAM amendment proposal is LD 739. I couldn’t find an LD 739 dealing with the subject of a constitutional amendment. I am still looking and have friends helping.

Two proposals are near the same. LD 703 is written:

Section 26. Personal right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife; limitations. Every citizen has the personal right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife, subject only to statutes enacted by the Legislature and to rules adopted by the state agency designated to promote wildlife conservation and management and to preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting, fishing and harvesting wildlife are a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section may not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass or property rights.

LD 753 is as follows:

Section 26. Right to hunt, fish and harvest game and fish. The right of the people of this State to hunt, fish and harvest game and fish, including by the use of traditional methods, may not be infringed, subject to reasonable laws enacted by the Legislature and reasonable rules adopted by the state agency designated for fish and wildlife management to promote wildlife conservation and management, to maintain natural resources in trust for public use and to preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing are a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section may not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to eminent domain, trespass or property rights.

LD 754 is actually an amendment to the existing constitution – Constitution, Art. IV, Pt. Third, §18, sub-§1. The amendment would add the following: “and not an amendment to the laws of the State governing hunting and fishing” the purpose of which would be to prohibit any efforts to change the laws governing hunting and fishing through citizen initiative/referendum process.

I have stated often that in order for a constitutional amendment to be effective in actually providing some semblance of a future guarantee of any right to hunt and fish, such an amendment must contain language that mandates that the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, or whoever and under what name wildlife management becomes in the future, manages Maine’s game species for the purpose of surplus harvest. None of the language in these three proposals gives us that.

History has shown that constitutional amendments, believed to be for the purpose of protecting the right of citizens to hunt and fish, without specific mandates, does nothing in protecting that right. What good is a right if it cannot be exercised? If and when any state fish and game department decides it will manage any and all wildlife for non consumptive use, then there is little purpose in protecting one’s right to hunt and fish.

In addition, the wording of such an amendment should be done in order that if and when the State of Maine decides it wants to merge departments or make changes in its department structure, which has been proposed in Maine in the past, which may also change its department name (department of natural resources as an example) that this amendment, which includes the mandate to manage game for surplus harvest, travels with those changes. Otherwise, restructuring, which might involve dissolving the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and creating of a new department, may present a legal issue and concern over whether such and amendment would still apply.

I hope that SAM and others aren’t so heavily focused on making sure that the Humane Society of the United States, and/or other environmental/animal rights groups, can’t force referendums that they miss an opportunity to do the job right and with complete protection.

I would also like to state that in LD 739, which is a process aimed at prohibiting the use of citizen initiatives in changing hunting and fishing laws, while an argument can be made about whether such an amendment would take away the public’s right to petition the state, it also sets a potentially dangerous precedent. Actions of this sort, have a way of coming around and biting us on the butt. I would not prefer this method of accomplishing the goals of SAM and other outdoor sportsmen.

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Texas Proposes “Right to Hunt” Constitutional Amendment

Below is a copy of the proposal, HJR 61, a constitutional amendment to recognize the right to “hunt, fish and harvest wildlife.” But does the wording in this amendment actually accomplish what supporters might think it will?

The wording, described by some as being “carefully considered” has too much gray area and never really guarantees anybody anything. What it guarantees, maybe, is that it recognizes harvesting of games as a management tool. It guarantees that “subject to laws or regulations to conserve and manage wildlife,” if there’s any spoilage left over, you will be able to buy a license and have an “opportunity.”

It is my opinion that such a “joint resolution” might be better than nothing, sportsmen need to understand it does not and will guarantee that the state will manage game species FOR SURPLUS HARVEST. It doesn’t express that at all.

HJR 61 Proposed:

A JOINT RESOLUTION
proposing a constitutional amendment relating to the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife.

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:

SECTIONA1.AAArticle I, Texas Constitution, is amended by adding Section 34 to read as follows:

Sec.A34.AA(a) The people have the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, including by the use of traditional methods, subject to laws or regulations to conserve and manage wildlife and preserve the future of hunting and fishing.

(b)AAHunting and fishing are preferred methods of managing and controlling wildlife.

(c)AAThis section does not affect any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights, or eminent domain.

SECTIONA2.AAThis proposed constitutional amendment shall be submitted to the voters at an election to be held November 3, 2015. The ballot shall be printed to permit voting for or against the proposition: “The constitutional amendment recognizing the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife subject to laws that promote wildlife conservation.”

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

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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An Initiative to Ban Trapping on Public Lands in Montana

HeritageVanceIt has been brought to my attention that an organization named Footloose Montana, is attempting to gather enough signatures for a citizens’ initiative to ban trapping on public lands. Among many others, the Montana Trappers Association opposes such a restriction.

I was recently sent a copy of an email from Gary Marbut at the Montana Shooting Sports Association. That email was a copy of information, i.e. history, etc. of the current Montana constitutional amendment that was passed in Montana, through citizen initiative in 2004. Below is a copy of the comments submitted to Jon Bennion from the Montana Department of Justice.

As you read through the comments, observe the transformation of language through the movement of an amendment whose intent was to forever protect hunting, fishing and trapping. Forget about what was intended in the original language, the change of language was a direct rewriting of the bill, watered down to mostly a worthless piece of undefined nonsense.

I have written about other state’s attempts at crafting some kind of constitutional amendment to protect hunting, fishing and trapping and by and large, they all end up with basically the same language. One might suspect a conspiracy or perhaps ignorance begets more ignorance as with each attempt at a bill to preserve hunting, fishing and trapping, it’s only a matter of copying the language of other bills that have come before.

I’m not a lawyer and have never played one on television. But, I’m not stupid. I’ve hunted and fished my entire life, so far, and I want to be able to do that until I die and I want to be able to do that with the freedoms and of the same time capacity as I always have. Such nonsensical jumbled up destruction of legal mumbo jumbo only serves to insure “opportunity”. Why not language that requires fish and game departments to manage wildlife for MAXIMUM surplus harvest?

According to the email, the author of the original language of Montana’s proposal for a constitutional amendment, wrote that the state of Montana will manage fish and wildlife to “preserve opportunities for the harvest.” Nothing here actually offers maximums, only minimums. The request is for the state to manage wildlife for opportunity to hunt, fish and trap. In its worst form if the state auctioned off one elk tag per year, under this amendment the state has preserved an opportunity. I suppose some might argue that the wording is plural, therefore at least two tags must be issued to two people.

Once the political crooks got done with the language, very little ended up changing, in my opinion. Perhaps now that some environmentalist totalitarians want to ban trapping on public lands, Montana citizens and their hunting heritage protection constitutional amendment will be tested.

As you can see from the email, the person who crafted the original language, states what the intent was. And we can see what the crooks in the state capital did to intent.

Preservation of harvest heritage. The opportunity to harvest wild fish and wild game animals is a heritage that shall forever be preserved to the individual citizens of the state and does not create a right to trespass on private property or diminution of other private rights.

That’s the entire amendment. When you trust your own government officials to protect your interests, you end up hanging yourself, going to your grave with “good intentions.” Politicians will never hogtie themselves to responsibility. That is why all bills are crafted in such as way so that when lawyers get done with the language, it may as well have been written in German to begin with.

Here is a copy of the email I received:

Jon Bennion
Montana Department of Justice

Dear Mr. Bennion,

The purpose of this communication is to provide comment concerning the proposed initiative to ban trapping on public lands.

Specifically, we believe that major parts of this proposed initiative are in conflict with the Montana Constitution. We urge that this proposal be returned to proponents with instructions from your office to correct those conflicts.

History

In 1992, the Montana Shooting Sports Association (MSSA) proposed a constitutional initiative, specifically CI-62, to put protection for hunting into the Montana Constitution. I, personally, wrote the language of CI-62. The operative language of CI-62 was, “The people of the state retain the right to hunt game animals. This right is vested in the individual citizen and shall forever remain inviolate.” CI-62 failed to gain sufficient signatures to gain ballot status, largely because of the organized opposition to signature-gathering by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

In 2003, MSSA sought to achieve the same result via a legislative referendum. I solicited Rep. Joe Balyeat to submit a bill draft request to the Legislative Services Division for this purpose. I provided Rep. Balyeat with language revised from CI-62, which he submitted to the LSD for bill drafting. The language I provided to Rep. Balyeat was:

” NEW SECTION. Section 1. Article II of The Constitution of the State of Montana is amended by adding a new section 36 that reads:

” Section 36. Preservation of harvest heritage. (1) The harvest of wild fish and wild game animals is a heritage that shall forever be preserved to the individual citizens of the state. The heritage does not create a right of trespass on private property and is subject to regulation by law.

” (2) The state shall manage fish and wildlife to preserve opportunities for the harvest of wild fish and wild game animals by the citizens of the state.”

There are two important issues about the language submitted in 2003. First, I intended that this constitutional protection be included in Article II of the Montana Constitution, the Declaration of Rights. Mr. Greg Petesch, the chief legal officer for the LSD preferred placing this new language into Article IX, but assured us that the language would have the same effect there as if it had been incorporated into Article II.

Second, I very deliberately changed the language from CI-62 to “harvest of wild fish and wild game animals” specifically to include fishing and trapping. One of the complaints MSSA had received about the language of CI-62 was from the Montana Trappers Association that the language of CI-62 did not protect trapping. I thought that to be a valid criticism and revised the language submitted to the LSD in 2003, again specifically to sweep trapping into the proposed constitutional protection.

This bill draft was introduced into the 2003 legislative session by Rep. Balyeat as House Bill 306. The introduced language read as:

” NEW SECTION. Section 1. Article IX of The Constitution of the State of Montana is amended by adding a new section 6 that reads:

” Section 6. Preservation of harvest heritage. (1) The harvest of wild fish and wild game animals is a heritage that shall forever be preserved to the individual citizens of the state, does not create a right to unauthorized trespass on private property or diminution of other private rights, and, for state residents, may be abridged only by general regulation necessary to further a compelling state interest.

” (2) The state shall manage publicly owned fish and wildlife to preserve opportunities for the harvest of wild fish and wild game animals by the citizens of the state.”

HB 306 passed the House by a vote of 81-17 and the Senate by a vote of 49-1, sufficient majorities for it to be referred to the ballot as a constitutional referendum in the general election of 2004, C-41. The intent for the language of HB 306 to also protect trapping was definitely a part of the discussion of HB 306 in legislative committee and floor sessions.

I recall that C-41 was approved at the ballot in 2004 by the highest percentage of the Montana electorate of any constitutional change ever made in Montana’s history. As MSSA campaigned among the public for the passage of C-41, we certainly portrayed part of the intent for this constitutional change as needed to protect trapping. I believe that to protect trapping is one of the reasons such a substantial majority of the electors voting on the measure voted for C-41.

The language finally passed in HB 306, subsequently approved at the 2004 General Election ballot by the people of Montana, and now in the Montana Constitution at Article IX, Section 7, is: ” Preservation of harvest heritage. The opportunity to harvest wild fish and wild game animals is a heritage that shall forever be preserved to the individual citizens of the state and does not create a right to trespass on private property or diminution of other private rights.”

Conclusion

As demonstrated above, it was very clearly my intent in drafting the language submitted to the LSD that trapping be included within the protection of C-41. It was the intent of the Legislature to protect trapping with HB 306. And, it was the intent of the people of Montana to give trapping constitutional protection with C-41.

Because Article IX, Section 7 of the Montana Constitution clearly protects trapping of game animals, the proposed initiative must be revised substantially in order to pass constitutional muster, if that can be done at all, before it is allowed to proceed.

Sincerely,

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Maine Clears One Small Hurdle in Effort to Protect Hunting, Fishing and Trapping

The Maine Senate voted 20-15 to accept a bill that is believed to be protecting the heritage of hunting, trapping and fishing by prohibiting citizens’ petitions brought against the fish and game department and making it a “right” to hunt, fish and trap. With the passage of this bill vote, the actual bill will need to wend its way back through both the House and Senate where a 2/3 majority vote is needed. Should this pass both houses, then a vote must go to the citizens by referendum where a 2/3 majority vote is also needed.

LD1303 was a flawed bill from the onset and then an amendment was added. The amendment, “Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to provide that laws limiting hunting or fishing may not be proposed through a citizen initiative and that hunting and fishing and the taking of wildlife are a valued part of our heritage that must be forever preserved and regulated for the public good?”, takes away citizens’ right to petition the state and this action, in my opinion, is unconstitutional.

However, the basic proposed constitutional amendment, thought to be an effort that would protect and make it a right of Maine citizens to hunt, fish and trap, is focused on only providing the right and does not mandate the fish and game department to manage game species for surplus harvest. It seems to me the author of this bill is only thinking about environmental and animal rights groups that want to stop hunting, fishing and trapping. The question needs to be asked what good is a constitutional amendment to provide a protected right to hunt, fish and trap if there is no guarantee to make every effort to manage game species in a manner in which it will provide game to actually hunt, fish or trap?

On examination of the history of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), we discover that policies and efforts within that department have been detrimental in ensuring Maine citizen’s have game to hunt, fish to fish for and fur-bearing animals to trap. Nothing in LD1303 ensures that MDIFW will always manage game for harvest opportunities.

I would suppose that if you trust your government and your fish and game department, this would not be of concern. Personally, I find it very troublesome.

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LD1303: Maine’s Constitutional Amendment to Establish Right to Hunt, Trap and Fish

I don’t understand why proposals, such as this one coming out of Maine, is seemingly kept so quiet. It wasn’t until last evening that I discovered on The New England Outdoor Voice message board, via an alert from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine that LD1303 was headed to a work session with the Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

LD1303 is a proposed amendment to the Maine Constitution aimed at protecting/establishing and giving Maine citizens a “right” to hunt, trap and fish. The bill summary states:

This resolution proposes to amend the Constitution of Maine to provide that the citizens of Maine have the personal right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife, subject to laws and rules that promote wildlife conservation and preserve the future of hunting and fishing, and to provide that public hunting and fishing are a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.

The specifics of the proposed amendment reads as follows:

Constitution, Art. IX, §26 is enacted to read:

Section 26. Personal right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife; limitations. The freedom to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife traditionally taken by hunters and anglers is a valued natural heritage that must be forever preserved for the citizens of this State. Every citizen has the personal right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife, using traditional methods, subject only to statutes enacted by the Legislature and to rules adopted by the designated state agency to promote wildlife conservation and management and to preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing are a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section may not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights or the regulation of commercial activities.

This is not the first time Maine has attempted something along these same lines and somehow it just meets a quiet and sudden death.

When I read the proposal, I immediately went to work sending out a few emails to those on my mailing list and included emails to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) Commissioner Chandler Woodcock, the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, David Trahan, Rep. Paul Davis, who sits on the Joint Standing Committee (JSC) and is a cosponsor, and Rep. Kenneth Fredette, the sponsor of the bill. The crux of my email was to encourage these people to amend this proposal.

I think the proposal as it stands is good, except that it is missing vital information; a mandate if you will. I have read and researched over the years many different proposals by states across the country attempting to pass constitutional amendments to protect and/or establish a right to hunt, trap and fish. This proposal does that except that it does not mandate that the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will manage all game species for surplus harvest. An amendment can guarantee a citizen a right to hunt, trap and fish but it becomes useless if and when the fish and game department decides it is no longer interested in managing game for consumptive use.

Some may laugh at such a notion but I’m telling you it is happening all over this country. Environmentalists and animal rights groups are working relentlessly to pressure fish and game (wildlife) departments to protect predators and end the heritage of consumptive use of natural game species. This mandate must be included in this amendment. It is on record of some fish and game officials in other states saying they no longer think fish and game departments should be managing wildlife for consumptive use. A mandate by the people could prevent that.

My suggestion for wording might look something like this, bearing in mind I am not a lawyer/lawmaker:

“This addition also mandates that the Maine Legislature, in conjunction with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and commissioner, will manage all game species for surplus harvest.” It might also want to including wording that consumptive use of these natural resources is also part of Maine’s heritage.

Simple, yet effective! In some states that have failed to get this as part of their constitutional amendments, regret not doing so.

It is important to understand, whether this is the intent, in whole or in part, of the sponsors of this bill, that not only is it important to protect and establish this right to hunt, trap and fish, it does go to some help to reduce lawsuits brought against the state aimed at ending or limiting the hunting opportunities of sportsmen. Such an amendment would not put an end to these lawsuits but it usually acts as a deterrent and saves the state money.

I’d also like to remind readers that when now Commissioner Chandler Woodcock was running for governor in Maine in 2006, in an online interview I did with all the candidates in July of that year, I asked each candidate if they would support a constitutional amendment. This is a copy of the exact question I asked:

Question number one – In an effort to protect hunting and fishing heritage, some states have enacted a Constitutional Amendment protecting that heritage. Proponents of an amendment say it will reduce the millions of dollars spent on fighting groups opposed to hunting and that guaranteeing a protected industry will strengthen the Maine economy, to name some reasons. Those opposed to an amendment mostly say it is unnecessary, that existing laws protect hunting and fishing now. Would you support a Constitutional amendment that would guarantee the protection of Maine’s hunting and fishing heritage?

And here is what then candidate Chandler Woodcock wrote:

I would support the constitutional amendment after it was approved by the people of Maine. I would not initiate the process or side with those who initiate the process. That said, there are two issues being addressed: The first is the preservation of the heritage and the second is the rights of the citizens to petition the government. I do not yet believe that the first has created a need to eliminate the second.

Please, contact members of the Joint Standing Committee and express to them that you would like to see an amendment to this proposal to include a mandate for MDIFW to manage game species for surplus harvest.

Please visit this page. Click on each member’s name and you will reach a page that includes contact information. This needs to be done before JSC votes on the proposal. Thank you.

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