Bipartisan Push To Protect Right To Hunt And Fish

By John Celock

A bipartisan duo of Kansas lawmakers is pushing a state constitutional amendment to protect the right to hunt, fish and trap.

State Reps. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-Palco) and Adam Lusker (D-Frontenac) introduced a resolution Thursday morning to start the process of amending the state Constitution for the hunting protections. Under the terms of the amendment, which would need to be approved by the state’s voters, hunting, fishing and trapping would be protected in the state.” Kansas would be the 19th state to adopt such an amendment, which have been gaining steam at the state level in recent years.

“One of the reasons is that Kansas is a great hunting state. There is a revenue stream from hunting. One thing we want to see is that Kansas is a state that welcomes hunters,” Lusker told The Celock Report. “It assures that some groups that are anti hunting or anti wildlife consumption come in and try to eliminate what we’ve been doing for years. We want things to be just like they are now for a long time.”

The issue is being pushed by sportsmen’s’ groups nationally, including the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation in Washington and the state based groups. Among the issues they have been pushing is the economic impact hunting and fishing have on states, along with wildlife management.

Couture-Lovelady and Lusker noted the need to use hunting to manage wildlife counts through hunting and other measures. They noted that hunters believe in conservation, including maintaining lands and wetlands for animals. Couture-Lovelady said that he sees the amendment as one that cuts down on federal overreach and represents a better environment in Kansas.

“The EPA and federal government forcing folks to have a certain habitat is not nearly as effective as farmers and landowners voluntarily doing so with the economic benefit of hunting and trapping,” Couture-Lovelady, the House majority caucus chairman, told The Celock Report. “It is a much more effective way to have more habitat rather than the government heavily handily doing so.”

Mississippi became the nation’s 18th state to adopt such a constitutional amendment in a statewide referendum last year, with 88 percent of state voters voting in favor of it, according to a study by the National Conference of State Legislatures. The first state to adopt such a measure was Vermont in 1777. Most states started adopting right to hunt amendments in the 21st Century, with Alabama and Minnesota doing so in the 1990s.

Christopher Horton, the Midwestern states director at the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, told The Celock Report that the amendments will protect the ability of states to utilize “science based” programs for fish and wildlife management, including hunting and fishing. He noted that Maine voters considered a referendum last year to outlaw the use of bait and dogs to help manage the state’s bear population, a traditional method in the state, which was opposed by Maine’s wildlife agency.

“They wanted to make sure they had the ability to properly manage that resource,” Horton said.

The Maine referendum was defeated by the state’s voters.

Horton noted the amendment has played a role in Nebraska lawmaking, with then Gov. Dave Heineman (R) citing his state’s amendment in vetoing a bill to end mountain lion hunting in the state last year. Horton said that Heineman noted that the state’s natural resources agency wanted the ability to hunt in order to effectively manage the mountain lion population in the state.

The right to hunt legislation has been opposed by various humane society groups nationally, which have argued that the amendments are unnecessary. Michael Markarian, the chief program and policy officer with the Humane Society of the U.S., told the Wall Street Journal last year that the amendments are largely an overreaction to efforts that seek to curb abusive or unsporting practices.”

Among the issues Markarian cited to the Wall Street Journal were the proposals to end the use of bait in bear hunting. He said that is baiting programs ended, bear hunting would be able to continue.

Lusker said that while the amendment he and Couture-Lovelady are pushing is not in reaction to any push against hunting and fishing in Kansas, he has been following the national issue.

“There is a lot of effort against sportsmen from groups who don’t have an interest in. it,” Lusker said.

Both Lusker and Couture-Lovelady noted the economic impact of hunting and fishing on the state. Figures from the state Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism show the sports having a $600 million annual economic impact on the state.

“Look around at the opening season. Whether it is deer or pheasant,” Couture-Lovelady said. “Hotels are full, restaurants are full. The impact on communities is significant.

Chris Tymeson, the chief legal counsel for the state wildlife department, told The Celock Report that his agency is reviewing the amendment but noted that there is nothing that would cause the department to oppose it.

Kansas is not the only state to push the right to hunt amendment this year. A Texas lawmaker introduced a similar measure last month.

NCSL said that an proposed amendment is pending in the New Jersey state Legislature. Indiana lawmakers passed a constitutional amendment in their 2013-2014 legislative session for right to hunt, but also have to pass it again in 2015-2016 in order to place it on a statewide ballot.

NCSL noted that proposals in Michigan, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia did not pass in 2014.

Couture-Lovelady and Lusker are quickly picking up bipartisan support from other lawmakers for this amendment. House Rural Caucus Chairwoman Susan Concannon (R-Beloit) told The Celock Report that while her caucus has not had the chance to review the amendment, she is in favor of it.

“We have obviously not discussed the issue in our rural caucus, but as the chair I completely support this effort to amend the bill of rights to the state Constitution,” Concannon said. “In light of continued regulatory efforts by the federal government and interference from animal rights organizations, it is important to have hunting rights clearly stated, protecting the Kansas hunters and the industry as a whole.

Rep. Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita), the House Democratic agenda chairman, told The Celock Report that he supports the work of Lusker and Couture-Lovelady.

“I support the right to hunt and fish and applaud this bipartisan effort to preserve this tradition for future Kansans,” Whipple said.

Kansas State Rifle Association President Patricia Stoneking told The Celock Report that her organization stands behind the proposed amendment. She stressed the history of hunting in Kansas and how hunters are feeding people in the state. She noted that hunting groups have worked to provide meat to nonprofit groups to feed the less fortunate.

“It’s an age old tradition here in Kansas. It is important we have something nailed down,” she said. “It is a natural time of amendment to add to the Kansas Constitution.”

Under the process the amendment would have to pass both the state House and Senate with a two-thirds majority in order to go to a statewide referendum. The referendum would be held during the November 2016 general election unless lawmakers call a special election in advance under the terms of the amendment.

Couture-Lovelady and Lusker are both confident that the amendment can pass both in the Legislature and statewide. Stoneking noted that in 2010, a constitutional amendment on Second Amendment rights in the state passed with 89 percent of the vote, which she said was a good sign for the hunting amendment.

“It is going to be a lot easier in Kansas than in other states where they have problems with the anti hunting groups and the misinformation they put out,” Couture-Lovelady said. “I believe most of the legislature will support this and on the ballot it will pass overwhelmingly. It is important that we set the agenda that this is a right, so it doesn’t ever become a problem in the state of Kansas.”

State With Right To Hunt Amendments
North Dakota
South Carolina