Several states are trying to make the sport of hunting into a constitutional right for its citizens. Extreme? In light of the continued opposition of animal activists, maybe that’s not a bad idea.
Down in Mississippi, plenty of residents are still buzzing over Mississippi State’s 34-29 upset over the No. 8 ranked LSU Tigers last week, something the Bulldogs hadn’t accomplished in nearly 25 years.
But there is another, less heralded, but potentially more meaningful development taking place in the Magnolia State: A proposed amendment asking voters to approve making hunting and fishing one of the rights enshrined in the state constitution. If voters approve, it would make Mississippi one of 17 states that have enacted similar provisions ensuring constitutional protection for hunting and fishing.
According to Governing magazine, seven states — Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — are considering bills in 2014 that would create a state constitutional amendment to protect people’s right to hunt and fish. One additional state, Alabama, has already enacted such a protection, but is considering legislation to place a ballot measure before voters in November to refine the language designating hunting and fishing as the “preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”
Several outdoor sports, conservation and wildlife groups — including the deep-pocketed National Rifle Association— have been promoting passage of such amendments during the last several years. Lately, the NRA has funded annual campaigns in “hunter-friendly” states to guarantee residents the right to hunt and fish.
I’ll be honest: I don’t appreciate a lot of what the NRA promotes since I believe that stricter background checks for gun buyers, firearms registrations and restrictions in military-type weaponry are common-sense measures to help curb gun-related violence and crime. The NRA opposes all of that.
And when it comes to hunting, I’ll also admit that I don’t hunt. Never have, never intend to.
However, I firmly and unequivocally support those who do pursue the sport safely and responsibly, which includes the overwhelming majority of hunters (the practice of “canned hunts” being another matter altogether). And since there is entrenched opposition from animal rights organizations and pro-vegetarian activists to demonize hunters — to the point of trying to ban hunting even as a means of wildlife management — I’m all in favor of making sure that such groups never get a chance to enact their agenda.
It’s a smart idea and a sound strategy to include hunting — and farming, while we’re at it — within the list of rights enumerated in a state’s constitution, because such protection makes it nearly impossible for an activist campaign to someday restrict or rescind those rights.
Keeping everything on the table
These amendments, supporters say, would be subject to “reasonable regulations” to promote wildlife conservation, but the Humane Society of the United States and other animal welfare groups are opposed because they understand that a constitutional protection for hunting would make it very difficult to regulate hunting practices via legislation.
“It could prevent progressive reforms that would be necessary if there were really egregious abuse, [such as] certain forms of trapping like the kind we’re trying to fight against in Maine,” Tracy Coppola, the HSUS Wildlife Abuse Campaign director, told Governing.
Despite HSUS’s disclaimer, there are is an urgency beyond pushing back against anti-hunting groups to enact referenda enshrining hunting and fishing as constitutional rights are more timely than ever. That’s because activists have seized animal contraception as an alternative to control wildlife populations.
Of course, HSUS insists that the organization isn’t opposed to traditional, “humane” forms of hunting, but they are providing funding to implement immunocontraception, a system that involves a vaccine affecting an animal’s immune system as a means of birth control where deer populations are literally overrunning residential areas.
One such area is the lower Hudson River Valley in upstate New York, a largely forested but well-populated area where hunting is not succeeding in controlling a deer population explosion. New York wildlife officials traditionally used hunters to control deer herds, but hunting with firearms is prohibited in Westchester County because of the density of its human population.
In the toney burg of Hastings-on-the-Hudson, for example, Mayor Peter Swiderski has endorsed the experimental use of an immunocontraception program developed by Tufts University’s Center for Animals and Public Policy.
Swiderski told The New York Times that in 2011 alone, there were 16 car-deer collisions in the town and that he, his wife and his child have all contracted Lyme disease from deer ticks.
Dr. Allen T. Rutberg, the Tufts center director, told The Times that the contraceptive vaccine, whose active ingredient is extracted from pigs’ ovaries, has shown some success, although mostly in places where deer are confined, such as Fire Island, so they can’t migrate out and continue breeding elsewhere. In confined areas, he said the technique has achieved 50 percent reductions in local deer herds.
Along with the emergence of alternatives to hunting for population control, however, other initiatives to ban dove hunting, to prohibit lead bullets and to restrict bear hunting are also gaining momentum — mainly from the same cohort of affluent urban residents disconnected from hunting, from farming, from livestock production and pretty much every other means of earning a living in rural America.
Look, I’m all for using every available tool to better manage wildlife, especially since the natural balance of predator and prey has been drastically upset after centuries of agriculture and development.
But that means that not only should communities and states explore options such as immunocontraception, they should also keep hunting on the table as an equally useful approach.
As well as a constitutional right we need to protect.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.