January 20, 2001: our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over.
Vote No on Hunting/Fishing Amendment to Save Hunting and Fishing
Growing up in Idaho, parents engendered a love for the outdoors often through sharing productive past times of hunting and fishing. If parents didn't, exposure came through friends, other relatives or simple proximity to the outdoors. Many received hunter safety classes in seventh grade and a hunting trip with dad might be an excuse to miss a day of school. Pickup trucks with gun racks were for the rifle and/or a fishing rod, in case you crossed a stream around sundown with a cloud of caddis descending on the water's surface dimpled with fish rising. The walls of many an Idaho household are adorned with photos of a mess of fish or a prized buck, if not the animals themselves.
So I view with no small amount of amused perplexity anyone who would politically posture constitutional protection for activities under zero threat of majority vote restricting them. As usual when the skeptical hackles rise, the devil is in the details. The text of the amendment will likely be dismissed by the ordinary Idaho voter in favor of its statement of purpose, to protect hunting, fishing and trapping. However, the proposed amendment may actually harm the ability for successful hunts, would protect some inhumane methods of take, and actually takes aim at killing fish, not protecting them.
The Idaho Secretary of State posts the text along with the pros and cons. The feel good reasons are as plain as a red October sunset, and will induce ready agreement before most will bother reading about the reasons not to vote for the amendment.
1. Future legislation to address public concerns regarding inhumane and unsportsmanlike practices could be affected by this amendment.
2. This amendment is unnecessary because the rights to hunt, fish and trap are not threatened and are already protected by law.
3. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game's wildlife management decisions could be constitutionally challenged as a result of this amendment.
These very valid reasons are eloquently illustrated by a north Idaho hunter/fisherman Ned Horner in response to a Betsy Russell piece delineating some unseemly trapping methods which would be protected by this amendment.
Although the controversy over trapping is certainly worth discussing, I think you may have missed a bigger issue about this proposal, and that is the threat this amendment poses to habitat. The reaction of most hunters and fishermen will be to automatically support the proposed amendment based on the first part that reads “…, to provide that the rights to hunt, fish and trap, including by the use of traditional methods, are a valued part of the heritage of the State of Idaho and shall forever be preserved for the people and managed through the laws, rules and proclamations that preserve the future of hunting, fishing and trapping;” However, it's the additional language in the proposal that is a threat to every Idahoans ability to hunt and fish.
The next part reads “to provide that public hunting, fishing and trapping of wildlife shall be a preferred means of managing wildlife”. Regulating harvest is certainly a critical part of wildlife management, but regulations mean nothing if there isn't adequate habitat to support wildlife and fish populations. Let's say critical big game winter range is threatened by a mega housing development on the Boise front range. This section of the Constitutional amendment could be interpreted by some to imply that culling the herd would be a priority over preserving critical wildlife habitat.
Of even more concern is the section that reads “shall not affect rights to divert, appropriate and use water, or establish any minimum amount of water in any water body”. Why is this even in this amendment? My Constitutional right to fish or hunt is protected, but that means nothing if the stream is dry or the wetland has been drained. Many streams and rivers in southern Idaho are already so over appropriated with water rights that entire sections dry up each year (including the Snake River). This section gives Constitutional protection to whoever wants to use water for consumptive uses at the expense of the fish and wildlife that water now supports.
America is a model for wildlife conservation and management because of the excise taxes on hunting and fishing (PR and DJ) that have generated billions of dollars for wildlife and fisheries management, but also because a few enlightened people in our nations history (Teddy Roosevelt for one) understood the value of habitat for preserving abundant fish and wildlife populations. As a passionate hunter and fishermen, I want that opportunity and privilege protected, but not if it means changing the Idaho Constitution to make it even more difficult to protect critical habitat. Unfortunately, whoever wrote this legislation had something else in mind than protecting your right to hunt and fish. I intend to vote NO on H.J.R. 2aa.
Indeed, in urging caution on this amendment, the Idaho Statesman identified the source of the broadside attack on minimum stream flows as Idaho Water Users Association headed by embattled former Republican head Norm Semanko. IWUA has endeavored in the past to dry up the Boise River and it's paltry 250 cfs winter minimum stream flow as water properly belonging to irrigators. Last anyone checked, fish require water to live.
While the Idaho AG gave this language a pass as not a threat to Idaho's minimum stream flows, clearly Semanko intends to use this language in a legal assault on Idaho rivers and their fish. Why give it to him. Such amendment proposals in the past have met with opposition from Idaho's Fish and Game, which is demonstrating unusual solidarity in supporting this attempt. However ex F&G director Steve Huffaker opposes the amendment.
“There’s a heck of a lot of daylight between existing stream flow policy or legislation and a constitutional prohibition,” said Huffaker. “I see no valid reason to amend the constitution. We opposed similar attempts for 10 years and now they have inserted the water language which is certainly not good news for fish.”
Anytime laws are advanced that appear to be a solution in search of a problem, look closely. This is just such a case. Vote no.