PHOENIX - State lawmakers have taken the first steps toward asking voters to give constitutional protection to hunting and fishing.
Backers acknowledge that the move is designed to undermine future voter efforts to restrict how that can be done.
On a 6-1 vote Wednesday, the House Committee on Military Affairs and Public Safety approved language that would prohibit any law or regulation "that unreasonably restricts hunting, fishing and harvesting wildlife or the use of traditional means and methods."
The constitutional amendment, which would have to be approved by voters in November, also would make hunting "a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife."
Darren LaSorte, lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said animal-rights groups have tried to persuade voters to enact restrictions before, as in 1994, when Arizona voters banned the use of steel-jawed traps on public lands.
"There are powerful anti-hunting groups out there," he said. "These anti-hunting groups are certainly becoming more active, more well-funded."
He said hunting needs protection from the "tyranny of the majority."
Putting this language in the Arizona Constitution would not preclude future limits on hunting. But it would make it much harder to put anti-hunting measures on the ballot because a constitutional amendment requires far more petition signatures.
Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr said her group is not seeking to ban hunting, but she worried that the language would put legal constraints on any effort to set even reasonable limits on the practice - limits that now are totally within the purview of the state Game and Fish Commission.
"I believe that science should be included in deciding what the 'bag' limits are, whether or not to hunt a particular species, whether or not to close a season," Bahr testified. "Under this, science takes a back seat."
Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale, who sponsored the measure, said that's not the case. It just requires hunting to be a preferred method.
"Hunting is a method of science as far as control," he said.
The measure, HCR 2008, which now goes to the full House, is part of a national effort by the NRA. LaSorte said 10 states already have similar provisions, with votes already planned in three others.
The proposal has the backing of the Game and Fish Commission, which voted 4-1 to support it. Commissioner Norman Freeman said they believe the language would protect their ability to make decisions about when and what to hunt.