Should right to hunt be guaranteed in Nebraska Constitution? Voters to
By <mailto:david.hen...@owh.com> David Hendee
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
States with hunting and fishing constitutional protection
States with protections and the year they were adopted
Vermont : 1777
North Dakota : 2000
Montana : 2004
Oklahoma : 2008
South Carolina: 2010
States with right-to-fish constitutional protection
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures
Click here to read the language of the proposed constitutional amendment.
Nebraskans have hunted, fished and trapped since frontier territorial days.
Hunting and fishing are part of the state's legacy of conservation and
stewardship of the natural heritage. And they are big business. Hunters and
anglers spent $709.1 million on trips, equipment and other related
expenditures in Nebraska last year.
Now voters will be asked on Election Day whether to enshrine a right "to
hunt, to fish and to harvest wildlife'' in the Nebraska Constitution.
Amendment 2 also would make public hunting, fishing and harvesting of
wildlife a "preferred means'' of managing and controlling wildlife.
The proposal would allow the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to continue
regulating the activities as the agency does now. It also makes clear that
the right to hunt, fish and trap would not trump private property rights or
laws governing water use.
State Sen. Pete Pirsch of Omaha proposed the constitutional amendment, which
state lawmakers voted in March to put on the ballot. Pirsch said it was
needed to counter potential threats from national animal rights groups.
Such groups helped ban the use of bait and dogs in the hunting of bears,
cougars and bobcats in Colorado in 1992 and the hunting of mourning doves in
Michigan in 2006. They also scored a temporary victory against New Jersey's
black bear season in 2007.
Omaha Sen. Brenda Council, who spoke against the bill in the Legislature and
continues to oppose the amendment, said the amendment would trivialize the
"It is absolutely unnecessary,'' she said. "Hunting and fishing are not
threatened in Nebraska."
Nor are the activities ever likely to come into the sights of future state
senators, she said.
"I can't imagine any composition of the Legislature that would support any
type of limit to hunting, fishing and trapping,'' she said.
Pirsch said it's not overkill to constitutionally protect hunting and
fishing for future generations. He said it's important to protect the
activities from potential assaults by "deep-pocketed, fringe activist
Although he knows of no pending challenge to hunting and fishing in
Nebraska, Pirsch noted that the Humane Society of the United States has a
"Time will tell," he said. "I can't predict strategy for the other side.''
Pirsch need not worry, said Jocelyn Nickerson of Omaha, state director of
the Humane Society of the United States. The organization has not taken a
position on the amendment, she said.
The Humane Society of the United States is a national nonprofit group that
is not connected with local animal shelters in Nebraska.
The organization has launched initiatives on farm animal welfare and
succeeded in outlawing tight-confinement practices for pregnant sows, veal
calves and laying hens in at least a half-dozen states - but has repeatedly
said it doesn't intend to mount a petition drive in Nebraska.
The organization, however, has played a role in more than 25 successful
ballot measures involving a range of animal issues - puppy mills, cock
fighting, farm animal confinement and hunting - in other states since 1990.
During the committee hearing on the right-to-hunt bill last year, several
speakers touted the amendment as important to block potential efforts by
organizations such as the Humane Society to erode livestock production in
Council wouldn't bite then and still snubs the bait.
"If that's the case, then have a constitutional amendment to protect the
rights of livestock producers," she said.
During debate on an early version of the bill, Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill
proposed - then withdrew - a playful amendment protecting rights as varied
as farming, ranching, napping and watching Husker football. She said
Pirsch's bill wasn't necessary because Nebraskans would never approve
infringements on hunting and fishing.
Pro-hunting and fishing initiatives have popped up in several state
legislatures in recent years.
Thirteen states guarantee the right to hunt and fish in their constitutions.
A ballot measure in Arizona was rejected in 2010 with help from the Humane
Society of the United States, which characterized the proposition as taking
away the right to vote on wildlife issues and a giveaway to special
interests that defend extreme and inhumane practices.
Jeremy Rine of the Ohio-based U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance said many of the
constitutional amendments are defensive maneuvers to outflank potential
assaults by anti-hunting groups.
Rine said some organizations have the ability to unload big bucks in
rhetorical and emotional campaigns intended to "sway voters in ways not
based on managing wildlife with the best science-based information but
pushing an anti-hunting agenda.''
The great majority of Americans recognize the value of hunting and fishing
and support the activities as the best way to manage wildlife populations,
said Tom Franklin of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
"To clarify in the constitution that hunting, fishing and trapping are
values that need to be retained is a pretty strong way to make that
statement,'' he said. "We want to sustain healthy populations of these
animals, but they always must have a healthy fear of people, or we'll have
Jeff Rawlinson, outdoor education manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks
Commission, said hunting and fishing are time-honored activities that tie
Nebraskans to the land. Wildlife conservation relies on hunters, trappers
and anglers to fund refuges and other preservation activities through the
fees they pay when buying permits and gear.
Nebraska is one of four states where voters will consider protecting hunting
and fishing rights in their constitutions in November. The others are Idaho,
Kentucky and Wyoming.
Eight states - Hawaii, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, New Jersey, New
Mexico, New York and Pennsylvania - considered similar legislation this year
to amend their constitutions but were unsuccessful, according to the
National Council of State Legislatures.
No organized efforts have emerged yet either for or against the amendment,
but it has the support of the Nebraska chapters of the American Fisheries
Society, the Izaak Walton League, Ducks Unlimited, the Nebraska Council of
Sportsmen's Club, the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, the Nebraska Firearms
Owners Association, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the Nebraska
League of Conservation Voters, the Nebraska Sportsmen's Foundation and the
Nebraska Wildlife Federation.
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