August 23, 2019

SAM’s Testimony on Right To Hunt Amendment, Makes Claims Not Entirely True

Recently I wrote about a proposed constitutional amendment in Maine that is being presented as an amendment to protect the “right” to hunt, trap and fish – LD 11. I also wrote that this proposal was one that I could support and I was wrong to have made the statement using the words that I did because I failed to succinctly express the full truth in my statement. Please let me explain.

Yesterday, I was reading David Trahan’s (Executive Director of the Sportman’s Alliance of Maine) testimony before the Legislative Committee in support of the proposed amendment.

To many, his words ring true, much because most of us have been taught certain things about our federal and state constitutions and the rights we have been granted under those constitution. Men don’t grant rights to anyone. They simply claim ownership of them and hand them back to us in some kind of limited form or fully deny us of such rights.

Trahan states that when this nation was founded, wildlife was “placed in the public trust” and as such we had the right to take it for sustenance. Therefore, Americans have always possessed the right to hunt, fish and trap. I will have to save for another day any debate on this so-called public trust and our inherent right to hunt, fish and trap. I will proceed from the perspective of most that they do have either a right or a privilege.

As Mr. Trahan also pointed out, man decided that in order to sustain game and other wildlife, they must construct laws to limit that activity. What happened to our inherent “right” to hunt, trap and fish when the limitations by law became enforced? Is anything really a “right” when it is controlled by man? We evidently believe so. When men, because they couldn’t maintain viable game populations through their own disciplines, called upon man-governments to do it for them, it began the process of destroying any semblance of a right to hunt. I ask once again, what happened to a so-called “right” to hunt wildlife “placed in the public trust” when at least some of that right was ceded over to government and restricted?

This is not that much different than the argument of sovereignty, in which most people do not understand sovereignty of an individual or a government agency. How are you a sovereign individual? Oh, you might say, “Nobody tells me what to do! I’m my own man!” But you are not. You might be a legend in your own mind, but you are not a sovereign individual. Once a man agrees to become part of a community, whether it is a small as a neighborhood or as large as a nation, they have agreed to relinquish that sovereignty and place it under the control of the government. Your act of relinquishment places decisions about your life into the hands of the controlling government agencies.

In Maine, at some point in time, the full right to hunt, trap and fish, was ceded to the State Government to control and make the decisions for us as to what, when and how we might harvest game. Trahan points this out in his testimony. In reality, the sportsmen have very little control over their perceived right to hunt. What has evolved since the creation of game and wildlife laws, is that the government agency formulated to oversee hunting, trapping and fishing, call the shots. Yup, proposals for new laws can be presented. Sometimes they get through a committee and most times not. You are heard before a committee but if you can’t get by the committee then what has become of your “right” to hunt, trap and fish. If you do get through committee you are at the mercy of the Legislature. Where then is your protected right?

Many believe that an amendment to the Constitution will guarantee, protect or create a “right” to hunt, trap and fish. They are wrong. I have written many times on this subject and stated that unless an amendment mandated or forced the government to do something, it is nothing more than words on a piece of paper.

The proposed LD 11 states, in reference to the right of the people of Maine to hunt, fish and trap, that this right: “may not be infringed.” (emboldening added) This is not a mandate. It does not force the Legislature, the Governor, Law Enforcement, or anybody else to stop any infringement of a person’s right to hunt, trap and fish. Go ask a lawyer – or at least an intelligent and honest one (yeah I know). Or go research it yourself. “May” is not a mandate – only a suggestion.

Further, the amendment says that this non infringement of the right to hunt, trap and fish is subject to “reasonable” laws enacted by the Legislature and “reasonable” rules adopted by the department in charge of management of game, fish and other wildlife. Is a “reasonable” law or rule an infringement? We’ve already established that the protection against infringement is non binding because the lawyers chose “may” instead of “must.”

So, who decides what “reasonable” means? I hope you are beginning to understand.

The amendment establishes that the department in reference is supposed to “promote wildlife conservation and management” and “maintain natural resources in trust for public use” (emboldening added) and this evidently will “preserve the future of hunting and fishing.” Nothing here is a mandate that forces anybody to do anything. What is wildlife conservation? As it is in operation today, wildlife conservation becomes a matter of which social entity has the most dollars and the loudest mouth to force their idealistic perceptions and conceptions of wildlife conservation.

The Department, according to this amendment will “maintain” natural resources. Maintain them how and to what levels of population that will guarantee, protect or create the “right” to hunt, trap and fish? This, of course, is left up to the Department, which is what takes places now. There is no mandate. There is no protection of any right.

The amendment further states that “public hunting and fishing are the preferred means…” (emboldening added) Where is the mandate here that will guarantee, protect or create a “right” to hunt, trap and fish? The Department might “prefer” to use hunting and fishing but what if they decide to import wolves to control populations of deer and moose? Where is the mandate? Where is the protection of any “right” to hunt, trap and fish? And would such a decision be “reasonable?”

The truth is, that while this is better language than previously proposed in other amendments, voters in Maine should not be misled to believe that this amendment, as written, will guarantee, protect or create for Maine citizens, the “right” to hunt, trap and fish.

And on the reverse of this, as I have already read in a few spreads of clap trap nonsense, such an amendment, as written will not destroy the process to petition the state. This should be obvious once you understand this proposal has nothing in it that is a mandate, forcing anybody to do anything.

When I said this amendment was something I could support, that statement was not accurate and I apologize for misleading people, if I did. First, I could not “support” such and amendment in the literal sense because I am not a legal resident of Maine and therefore could not vote for it if I wanted.

My thinking at the time was that while there still were no mandates in the proposal, perhaps the language was such that it might deter the onslaught of lawsuits and referendums that have been piled onto the Pine Tree State. It may, in fact, increase them. It is difficult to assess.

I will work harder to choose my words and the statements I make more carefully.

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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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Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine – LD176 Testimony

LD176 – A bill proposal to control and limit who can directly work to take signatures for petitions concerning citizen initiatives.

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Oregon Senate Hearing on Wolf Management

YAWN!

The Oregon Senate should have invited the wolves and sheep both to testify. Same outcome.

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