Wednesday, October 15, 2014

This article plainly states we have our work cut out for us



In the Hunt for Votes – Bears, Wolves and the Right to Hunt on the Ballot

By Mindy Bridges and Douglas Shinkle
While states across the country and NCSL staff prepare for the election season, hunters across the country gear up for fall hunting seasons—many of which are well underway.
Photo credit: Bangor Daily NewsPhoto credit: Bangor Daily News
Voters in four states will decide on hunting issues this Election Day. The decisions facing voters range from restricting methods by which to hunt bears, weighing in on the future of wolf hunting and recognizing the right to hunt.

Maine Question 1 asks voters to prohibit the use of hounds, bait or traps when hunting bears. Other states allow some of these methods to hunt bears, but Maine is the only state in the nation to allow all three of these methods. If this ballot measure passes, bear hunting would still be allowed, but with limitations for hunters.

Both sides of the Maine question debate whether research definitively shows the impacts of certain hunting methods on the management of the species. Proponents of the measure, such as Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, denounce what they call “cruel and unsporting practices” and claim that millions of pounds of junk food and garbage are used for baiting each year in Maine, which can habituate bears to human food.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife opposes the ballot question, stressing that it would “cripple the department’s ability to control the bear population,” and arguing that its successful track record using research and management to minimize human-bear conflicts should speak for itself. The department said the 2014 bear harvest will fall “well below objectives” without these three methods of bear hunting.

In Michigan, voters will decide whether wolves can be hunted in the state, as well as whether voters can have a say in what species are designated to be hunted.

In 2012, the Michigan legislature enacted a law allowing the establishment of an annual wolf hunting season after the Western Great Lakes region gray wolf population was removed from the federal Endangered Species list. In 2013, amid mounting opposition from groups against wolf hunting, the Michigan legislature enacted another law, which allows only the legislature and the state’s Natural Resources Commission to add a species to be hunted. It also stated that only the Legislature can remove a species from the eligible to be hunted list. Now, after the collection of over 500,000 signatures by wolf-hunting opponents, both laws are eligible to be reconsidered by the Wolverine state’s voters.   

Pro-wolf groups are urging a no vote on Proposal 14-1 and Proposal 14-2, claiming that the Legislature is trying to quell voter input in hunting decisions and that wolf hunting is an unsustainable enterprise that will damage a vulnerable population. Advocates of wolf hunting believe opponents are trying to “Overrule Michigan’s wildlife biologists on game management decisions.”  Minnesota and Wisconsin, which host the remainder of the Great Lakes wolves, have already held hunting seasons.

Almost annual election battles over hunting practices appear to be part of the reason many states are enshrining the right to hunt and fish in their state constitutions.

Alabama and Mississippi voters will both cast ballots in November to add such language to their constitution. Mississippi is seeking to become the 18th state with a constitutional right to hunt and fish provision, while Alabama’s measure would refine already established language, adding that hunting and fishing are the “preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.” Eight other states considered legislation to refer similar measures to their ballots in 2014, but they failed to clear their legislatures.

Pro-hunting groups believe anti-hunting groups are slowly trying to reduce hunting opportunities through a variety of laws restricting allowable hunting practices. NRA spokesperson Catherine Mortensen was recently quoted as saying “Groups like PETA and the Humane Society were going after these laws, sort of in an incremental way.” Nicole Paquette, the Humane Society’s vice president of wildlife protection, disputed that assessment, stating that “no one is trying to eliminate hunting and fishing,” but the Humane Society is “trying to end some of the most egregious hunting practices,” such as trapping, baiting and captive hunts. Nonetheless, nine legislatures have referred such constitutional language to a vote of the people since 2008, with only Arizona voters turning down the language.

No matter the outcome, with about 13 million Americans participating in hunting activities each year, it seems likely states will continue to propose legislation and ask voters to make decisions about both protecting and limiting hunting and fishing opportunities in their respective states.

Learn more about the key issues facing voters this fall, with NCSL’s Ballot Measures database.
For more information on state legislation, please see NCSL’s natural resource pages on State Constitutional Right to Hunt and Fish and Sunday Hunting or contact NCSL staff.