Indiana to vote on making hunting and fishing a constitutional right

Image: Torrey Wiley via Flickr

Image: Torrey Wiley via Flickr

By Morgan Linn

Indiana residents will decide if  hunting and fishing should be a constitutional right this election. That’s a decision that’s more complicated than it sounds.

The Indiana Right to Hunt and Fish Amendment would constitutionally protect the right to “hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife,” as well as make hunting and fishing a preferred method of wildlife management.

While supporters say it’s needed to protect cherished traditions from extremist groups, opponents say it’s unnecessary and could do more harm than good.

Fishing is a constitutional right in California and Rhode Island. The combination of hunting and fishing is constitutionally protected in 19 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Wisconsin became the first and only Great Lakes state to have the amendment in 2003.

Now it’s Indiana’s turn to decide. The amendment was added to the ballot by the state legislature.

Supporters include pro-hunting groups, such as the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International.

“We’ve been working very hard at the grassroots level with our members and supporters in Indiana to get this on the ballot,” said Catherine Mortenson, a media liaison for the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action.

The group supports the measure because it would protect the right to hunt and fish for future generations, she said. The Safari Club supports it for similar reasons.

“Sportsmen have been under attack for many years in Indiana and other states by

well-funded, national anti-hunting groups, who have demonstrated a clear disregard for the cherished traditions of many Americans,” Mortenson said.

Adding an amendment to the ballot is the strongest legal protection, she said. It  is needed to protect outdoor traditions from “extreme animal rights groups” that are

In 2006, voters rejected dove hunting in Michigan. Image: Bruce Tuten

In 2006, voters rejected dove hunting in Michigan. Image: Bruce Tuten

“chipping away at the second amendment.”

She cited as examples a ban on dove hunting in Michigan and a ban on mountain lion hunting in California.

Some animal rights and environmental groups say that the amendment is unnecessary because  hunting and fishing are already protected.

”We really only focus our energy on the worst types of wildlife abuse,” said Erin Huang, the Indiana state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

Her group sees eye to eye with many fair chase hunters, and isn’t infringing on people’s rights, she said.

Others worry that such an amendment will affect the ability to regulate hunting.

“We have to have limits on hunting, because you can over hunt and threaten populations of certain endangered animals,” said Kim Ferraro, a senior staff attorney with the Hoosier Environmental Council. But the right to hunt is “not under threat by any means.”

Image: Randen Pederson/flickr

Opponents say fishing and hunting are already protected. Image: Randen Pederson on Flickr

Plus, “hunting and fishing are protected under the public trust doctrine here in Indiana,” Ferraro said. “There’s no need to create a special constitutional right to hunt and fish.”

The public trust doctrine says that “wildlife, nature and public lakes are held in trust for the public’s use,” she said. Hunting and fishing are already protected,

Some opponents say the amendment could impact existing regulations.

“This is actually an effort by the National Rifle Association, which has been successful in other states, to make it more difficult to regulate hunting and fishing,” Ferraro said.

By making hunting and fishing a constitutional right, “it calls into question all of the existing statutes and regulations that we have,” she said. “They could be challenged and potentially overturned.”

It would also “limit the discretion of the DNR to use other avenues for controlling and managing wildlife,” Ferraro said.

This would “tie the hands of legislators, lawmakers and wildlife biologists,” Huang said.

Additionally, making hunting and fishing a constitutionally protected right could “invite frivolous lawsuits from people who want to challenge things like bag limits or hunting seasons,” Huang said. “So the state would have to spend money defending against those types of frivolous lawsuits.”

“You’re going to have people that may try to challenge some of the rules that are currently in place to protect wildlife, just because it’s going to be a constitutional right,” she said.

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