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Constitutional Rights in the Woods

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Idaho to decide constitutional amendment for hunting and fishing

November always brings the reality that winter is coming, the daylight hours are shorter, the rain, the cold, and of course the deer season is in full swing. During election years it’s my favorite time, because all the campaign signs come down and the endless political ads come to an abrupt stop. As annoying as the political games can be I hope you all made some time to vote this year. You know you can’t go around complaining about things unless you voted!

If you did vote you probably noticed the proposal to add a new section to the Idaho Constitution “to provide the right to hunt, fish, trap, including by the use of traditional methods, are valued part if 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; to provide that public hunting, fishing, and trapping of wildlife shale be a preferred means of managing wildlife... .”

If you voted “no” you dismissed this proposed amendment to the Idaho Constitution and it leaves the Constitution just as it was written. If you voted yes, you supported making hunting, fishing, and trapping a constitutional right in Idaho. 

For many years the Idaho Fish and Game Commission has not supported attempts by lawmakers to escalate hunting rights to the constitutional level. However, last March the Idaho Legislature passed a joint resolution, HJR2, and after weeks of debate it went on to the House and Senate, eventually reaching approval. This time, our Fish & Game commission supported the proposed amendment as well.

We, as a state agency, the Idaho Fish and Game, are prevented by law from taking a position, which is why I’m writing this article now that you have had a chance to vote. I’m not allowed to have an opinion outside my home walls, and I suppose I’ll continue to be a puppet because my job is important to me and my family. However, the The Idaho Fish & Game Commission, which sets policy for our agency, and is allowed to have opinions, has publicly supported this amendment.

So what happens if this amendment is not passed? Hunting, fishing, and trapping are not constitutional rights and life goes on. Does that mean Idaho Fish & Game will be doing business any different? Nope. 

So what happens if this amendment is passed? Idaho Fish & Game will retain authority to regulate wildlife by the use of biological and population sciences. Those residents of Idaho who want to hunt, fish, or trap must purchase a license and are subject to the laws of partaking in such activities. The amendment goes on to say that it does not prohibit the suspension of hunting, fishing, or trapping licenses for unlawful behavior. It’s business as usual, as I far as I am concerned.  However, you always have to be cautious when making a change to the constitution, as it leaves things open to judicial review and interpretation.

Some argue that this amendment would protect our hunting heritage from opposition groups trying to remove the element of hunting in the North American Wildlife Management model.  The Idaho Fish & Game Commission argues that support of the amendment would prevent that from happening and allow the Department to continue with our mandate to “preserve, protect, perpetuate and manage” Idaho’s wildlife.

Some concerns, even from hunters, trappers, and fisherman, is whether this amendment is really something we need to add to the constitution. Isn’t the Constitution reserved for protecting basic human rights such as freedom of speech, assembly, and religion? If we start opening up the constitution to these “add-ons,” what else can we expect down the road?

Are we the only state to have such an amendment proposed? Hardly not; Vermont made the rights to hunt, fish, and trap a part of their original constitution in 1777! Since the mid-1990s, 12 other states have added a similar amendment to their constitution with Kentucky, Wyoming, and Nebraska voting along with Idahoans this year.  In 2010 Arizona voters shot down a similar amendment.

Like I said earlier, I’m not allowed to have an opinion, so I’m merely just bringing up some opposing ideas and subsequently relaying what it means for your Fish & Game Department if it passes or doesn’t pass.

Regardless, the key to successful wildlife management is providing quality habitat and applying good science to preserve, protect, and perpetuate Idaho’s wildlife populations. Then, and only then, will we have viable populations that are subject to hunting. Any true sportsman understands that basic principle.

Happy Veterans Day to all our Vets out there, thank you for your service to our Nation and the sacrifices you and your families have made.  For those brave souls who never made it home to their loved ones, you are not forgotten. The Sandpoint District Conservation officers would also like to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving as well. Remember to take the time to be thankful for the natural resources we have here. It’s all our jobs to take care of it responsibly. Please take the time to make that call to report poaching. Citizen’s Against Poaching hotline 800-632-5999, your local sheriff’s office or local game warden. Thank you!

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Matt Haag Matt Haag is an Idaho Fish and Game Conservation Officer.

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