A referendum making hunting and fishing constitutional rights in Arizona is being pushed by sportsmen's groups as a way to make it harder to ban hunting at the polls.
Backers of Proposition 109 say they're trying to stop "wildlife management by ballot box," which they say appeals to emotions. They say Proposition 109 will ensure laws governing hunting and fishing are designed with wildlife conservation in mind. They say they want wildlife managed according to science.
But opponents are afraid Prop. 109 would tie voters' hands and see it as a power grab by the Legislature and a threat to the Game and Fish Commission's authority. They say this proposal puts politics ahead of science and could make it harder to regulate hunting even if science seems to call for it. Finally, they see proposal as unclear and having too much room for interpretation.
The two sides disagree not only over the proposal's merits, but over its meaning, down to individual words and clauses.
How it would work
The proposition would give the Legislature exclusive authority to enact laws for hunting, fishing and harvesting of wildlife, although that authority can be delegated to a State Game and Fish Commission. It would prohibit laws unreasonably restricting these practices. It would require that laws and rules governing hunting and fishing be done for wildlife conservation and management and for preserving hunting and fishing's future.
Supporters say they are concerned that someday, groups in Arizona will try to institute California's mountain lion hunting ban, Michigan's dove hunting ban or New Jersey's just-ended bear hunting ban. Without constitutional protection for hunting and fishing and without language requiring the use of science in setting policies, they're afraid that anti-hunting groups could use emotional arguments to stop them.
Jack Husted, a State Game and Fish commissioner, said when he attended his first commission meeting last year, he was told by Game and Fish Department staff he needed to "walk very lightly" on the issue of killing mountain lions in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge to protect bighorn sheep. If he didn't, a citizens initiative might be launched to ban mountain lion hunting statewide, Husted said.
"I can't do the right thing by all of the state's wildlife because of those advocacy groups," said Husted, a Springervile resident, and former volunteer game warden and reserve officer.
He and Larry Audsley, a Tucsonan active in the Arizona Wildlife Federation, see Proposition 109 as critical to preserve what is known as the North American Model of Wildlife Management. Under that system, revenue from hunting and fishing licenses maintains wildlife populations and habitat - a practice that has lasted a century nationwide, including at Arizona's Game and Fish Department.
If hunting and fishing are reduced or eliminated, how will wildlife fare if it must compete for general fund tax dollars with child welfare, education, public safety and transportation, asked Audsley, the federation's Southern Arizona regional director.
While the Game and Fish Commission has endorsed Proposition 109, former commission Chairman Bob Hernbrode said he's concerned the proposition will backfire on hunters, hurting their standing in the long run.
"It's a matter of arrogance," said Hernbrode, whose term expired this year and who like Husted is a longtime hunter. "The difference between a right and a privilege is having a sense of responsibility for what you do. When someone tells me I have a right to hunt, it kind of blows down my sense of responsibility to the rest of the public."
No efforts are planned to try to ban hunting or fishing in this state, said Stephanie Nichols-Young, a Phoenix attorney who heads the Animal Defense League of Arizona. "Supporters are trying to scare people to gain more power. It's pretty obvious."
Opponents say by putting hunting into the constitution, the law will require another constitutional amendment to pass new hunting restrictions if they're needed - a process that is much harder to change than a simple initiative.
"The intent is pretty clear. They intend to tie the hands of Arizona citizens when it comes to enacting wildlife measures," said Sandy Bahr, a Sierra Club lobbyist.
The opponents also say the provision requiring laws be reasonable could provoke litigation over the definition of "reasonable," Hernbrode said.
"Today, if hunters don't like what the Legislature or Game and Fish does, they have no cause of action in court," Nichols-Young said. "If it passes, they will. Because hunting is a fundamental right, the test of reasonableness will be applied in favor of the person suing, not the state."
Finally, because the proposition makes harvesting of wildlife a constitutional right, opponents fear it could allow a fur trapper to sue to overturn the ban on leghold trapping that voters approved in 1994.
As for the trapping ban, Todd Rathner, a National Rifle Association board member living in Tucson, said, "In Arizona, anybody can sue for anything. . . . It's knotty. There are arguments on both sides. Could a trapper take it to the courts? Possibly. Would they? I have no idea. I'm not aware of any effort to do that."
The NRA initiated the proposal.
• Arizonans have a constitutional right to lawfully hunt, fish and harvest wildlife.
• The state Legislature has exclusive authority to enact laws regarding "the manner, methods or seasons" for hunting, fishing and harvesting of wildlife. It can delegate rule making authority to a Game and Fish Commission.
• Lawful hunting and fishing are preferred means for managing and controlling wildlife.
• It doesn't affect property rights.
Contact reporter Tony Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 806-7746.