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Constitutional right to hunt, fish on four state ballots

October 19, 2010 |  1:36 pm

A hunter and his son. Those going to the polls in Arizona, Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee on Nov. 2 will be asked to decide  whether hunting and fishing deserve the added protection of being a state constitutional right.

"When you have something protected in your constitution, then it is very difficult to use the courts or other types of ballot activities to thwart, for example, hunting and fishing," state Sen. Steve Faris (D.-Ark.), the bill's lead sponsor there, told Reuters.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 10 states -- Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin -- guarantee the right to hunt and fish in their constitutions.  California and Rhode Island have language in their respective constitutions guaranteeing the right to fish but not to hunt.

"They start with cats and dogs, and the next thing you know, someone says it's inhumane to shoot a deer," added Faris.

The "they" Faris refers to are animal-rights organizations, which are decidedly anti-hunting.

Ashley Byrne, a New York-based campaigner for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, described the hunting and fishing ballot proposals as "a desperate attempt to prop up a dying pastime," adding that although PETA had not mounted any campaigns against the amendments, it would "continue to educate people about how hunting is cruel and unnecessary."

A report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that 12.5 million Americans hunted in 2006, down 4% from 2001 and 11% from 1991. The number of anglers from 1991 to 2006 fell 16% to 30 million.

Hunting and fishing, however, are seen as a way of life for many Americans, including Mike Adams, 60, of Bisbee, Ariz., who backs the state's Proposition 109.

"I'm a firm believer that anyone who wants to hunt should be able to do it," said Adams, a hunter himself. "I feel that some of the animal-rights activists are going to extremes to take our right away both to bear arms and to bag game."

Though the numbers of hunters and anglers may have decreased, the fact is, both sports greatly contribute financially to the nation's economy. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that hunters and anglers spent $76.7 billion in 2006, the last year for which such data are available.

These days, some might argue that our economy needs all the help it can get.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: A hunter and his son. Credit: Colorado Division of Wildlife