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Legislature Passes Freedom to Hunt, Fish & Trap
The Louisiana Legislature has approved a ballot initiative proposing a constitutional amendment to include the freedom to hunt, fish and trap as a fundamental right of citizenship in the Bayou State. SB 2, introduced by Senator Joe McPherson (Woodworth) and coauthored by 76 of his House and Senate colleagues, passed the legislative process without amendment or opposition. It will be on the November 2, 2004 general election ballot. The proposed constitutional amendment is based on the premise that hunting, fishing and trapping are fundamental to citizenship in Louisiana and that these activities were and are understood by both founding and current generations of Louisianans as intrinsic to life in the "Sportsman's Paradise" - the slogan emblazoned on vehicle license plates.
SB 2 was McPherson's third attempt to give Louisiana citizens the opportunity to vote on the amendment. Prior efforts failed to make it completely through the legislative process due to landowner concerns and a play by officials of the state wildlife agency to use the bill as leverage in a turf fight with the state agriculture department.
According to McPherson, his first two attempts were a learning experience. "This time we got it right," he said. "It addresses all legitimate concerns while maintaining the original intent and integrity of the concept."
The proposed amendment is supported by the Louisiana Wildlife Federation (LWF) and numerous other sportsmen's and conservation groups. According to LWF executive director, Randy Lanctot, amending the Louisiana constitution as proposed by SB 2, "will be a confirmation of Louisiana's rich wildlife conservation heritage and, most importantly, help to fend off threats to that heritage by anti-hunting/fishing factions and well-intentioned but misinformed segments of the public."
In explaining the purpose of the amendment, LWF's president, E. R. "Smitty" Smith of New Iberia stated, "Attempts to curtail various hunting, fishing and trapping activities have occurred in dozens of other states where the use of leghold traps, dogs for pursuing bear and cougar, bear management via regulated harvest, hunting on Sundays, and dove hunting have been challenged. Of growing concern are efforts to restrict fishing by making certain waters off-limits without sound, science-based reasons."
"Extreme proponents of animal rights are active in every state capital in the nation, gradually eroding long-held traditions of conservation and wise utilization of fish and wildlife resources," said Smith. "In Louisiana, groups like PETA have petitioned for a ban on fishing in Louisiana State Parks, protested fishing events like the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo, and engaged in a billboard campaign against fishing and eating meat. The past two legislative sessions have seen bills filed to criminalize killing animals, which would have applied to the harvest of fish, game, fur, and even beef cows," Smith said.
According to Tara Mica, Government Relations Representative with the National Rifle Association, another group supporting the proposed amendment, "Seven states, the most recent being Wisconsin in April of 2003, have included language in their constitutions to preserve the freedom to hunt, fish and trap. Similar proposals are pending in 8 other states besides Louisiana."
"The language of the proposed constitutional amendment is consistent with the authority and responsibility of the Legislature and the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission to protect, conserve and manage the fish and wildlife resources of the state," said McPherson. "It also addresses the concerns of private property owners that the 'freedom to hunt, fish and trap' not infringe their rights to restrict access to their property." The proposed amendment closely tracks model language recommended by the U. S. Sportsmen's Alliance, a national sportsmen's rights advocacy organization.
Specifically, the amendment proposes to add Section 27 to Article I of the Louisiana constitution stating: "The freedom to hunt, fish, and trap wildlife, including all aquatic life, traditionally taken by hunters, trappers and anglers, is a valued natural heritage that shall be forever preserved for the people. Hunting, fishing and trapping shall be managed by law and regulation consistent with Article IX, Section 1 of the constitution of Louisiana to protect, conserve and replenish the natural resources of the state. The provisions of this section shall not alter the burden of proof requirements otherwise established by law for any challenge to a law or regulation relating to hunting, fishing or trapping the wildlife of the state, including all aquatic life. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to authorize the use of private property to hunt, fish or trap without the consent of the owner of the property."
"This language confirms that citizens have the fundamental freedom, or right, to engage in the harvest of fish and game and fur, and that the authority to regulate, restrict and prohibit these activities is given by the citizens to the Legislature and the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission via statute and constitutional provision," said Rep. Jack Smith (Franklin) who handled the bill on the House floor. "Adding the proposed statement to the Louisiana Constitution will serve to preempt special interests from attempting to take away these freedoms as they have in so many other states where resource utilization has been challenged, and in some cases curtailed, contrary to sound, science-based fish and wildlife management principles."
Smith reiterated that the proposed constitutional amendment does not in any way authorize entry upon private property to hunt, fish or trap. "However," he said, "it will protect the right of landowners to authorize and engage in these activities on their own property. The anti-hunting/fishing/trapping movement that this proposal defends against has the potential to hurt private landowners the most because they (owners) have an economic stake in these activities which generate revenue, enhance property value and control the depredation of habitat on their land," Smith said.