February 5, 2023

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.


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.