Right to Hunt, Fish and Harvest Wildlife

Summary

Though hunting, fishing, and trapping has long been a part of America’s heritage, the “right” to hunt, fish, and trap has recently come into question through the efforts of anti-hunting organizations. In order to establish what has been inherent for centuries, many states have now amended their state constitutions to give their citizens the right to hunt, fish, and trap in a responsible manner.

Introduction

Though hunting, fishing and harvesting wildlife have long been an American heritage since before the first Europeans arrived in North America, only recently has the “right” to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife come into question. Anti-hunting organizations would lead the public to believe that hunting, fishing, and harvesting wildlife are only a privilege subject to social pressures and prevailing public sentiments, rather than an inherent right. In order to establish in perpetuity what has been assumed for centuries, several states have sought amendments to their state constitutions that give their citizens a right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife and to continue a consumptive, yet responsible, use of natural resources. Currently, 21 states have enacted legislation that protects the right to hunt and fish.  Though there has been little resistance in several of the states that have recently passed ballot initiatives, others have met considerable resistance and, in one instance, defeat.

History

  • Vermont was the first state to adopt a constitutional provision protecting the rights of its citizens to hunt, trap and fish. The right has been protected in Vermont since 1777.
  • Other states that have amended their constitution to protect hunting, angling and trapping include: Alabama (1996 & 2014), Arkansas (2010), Georgia (2006), Idaho (2012), Kentucky (2012), Louisiana (2004), Minnesota (1998), Mississippi (2014), Montana (2004), Nebraska (2012), North Dakota (2000), Oklahoma (2008), South Carolina (2010), Tennessee (2010), Texas (2015), Virginia (2000), Wisconsin (2003), and Wyoming (2012).
  • Both amendments on the November 2016 ballots in Kansas and Indiana were approved.
  • California and Rhode Island have language in their constitutions protecting the rights of their residents to fish.
  • New Mexico and Washington introduced bills in the 2017 legislature that would protect the right to hunt and fish.

Points of Interest

Simply passing a “right to hunt and fish pursuant to all laws and regulations” amendment doesn’t necessarily guarantee any long-term benefits of such an amendment. The language should consider the following:

  • Recognition of an individual right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife.
  • Preservation of the state’s power to regulate these activities and the codification of the Public Trust Doctrine.
  • Preemption of the kind of local regulation that frustrates comprehensive, statewide wildlife management.
  • Protection of traditional hunting methods such as the use of archery equipment and hunting with dogs.
  • Recognition of hunting and fishing as preferred means of managing wildlife, rather than unproven contraception schemes and unwarranted use of government “sharpshooters”.
  • Clarification that private property rights are not affected or diminished.
  • It should be noted that the state agency should be named only if it is already a constitutionally-recognized entity. If this is not the case, a generic term such as “designated state agency” should be used.

Language

For specific language examples, please contact CSF staff.

Moving Forward

While the rights of citizens to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife can be established through a number of different legislative options, it is up to local elected officials, working with the state natural resource agency, to identify the most comprehensive option and advance it in their state. Such legislation is important in securing the heritage and future of sportsmen and women.

Contact

For more information regarding this issue, please contact John Culclasure, 202-543-6850 x25, jculclasure@congressionalsportsmen.org.

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