News & Resolutions

Voters Pass Freedom to Hunt, Fish, Trap by Landslide

November 2, 2004 12:00 AM

On November 2, 2004, Louisiana voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to guarantee every citizen the freedom to hunt, fish and trap.  The amendment, garnering 81% of the votes (1,194,907 to 281,161) adds the following specific language to Article 1, the "Declaration of Rights," in the Louisiana Constitution: Section 27.  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.

Prior to the election, naysayers challenged the wisdom of "Freedom to Hunt, Fish & Trap" (FHF&T) saying that it could be used to justify use of private property without permission, authorize the restriction of public access to public waters by private landowners, affect protection of endangered species, and challenge restrictions prohibiting the use of certain gear to take fish and game, such as nets.  All of these concerns are addressed in the specific language of the amendment.

The concern about trespassing and access is answered by the last sentence of the amendment which reinforces the right of private owners to control the use of private property.

The reference in the second sentence of the amendment to Article 9, Section 1 of the constitution addresses both the endangered species and the gear prohibition concerns because it binds law and regulation governing hunting, fishing and trapping to the state's obligation to "protect, conserve and replenish" the natural resources of the state.  This is the constitutional provision the state used to successfully defend a 1995 law that prohibits the use of gill nets in coastal waters.

Another complaint offered was that fish and wildlife resources are public resources and "consumptive" user groups should not be given priority over "nonconsumptive" users by provision of the constitution.  Again, the existing Article 9, Section 1 of the Louisiana Constitution, which is integral to FHF&T, requires conservation and protection sufficient to sustain fish and wildlife resources which in turn sustains "nonconsumptive" uses of these resources.

The Advocate (Baton Rouge), Times-Picayune (New Orleans), Town Talk (Alexandria) and other newspapers around the state questioned the need for FHF&T, and recommended that voters reject it.  The newspaper editors apparently did not think that hunting, fishing and trapping was threatened in Louisiana and opined that the Legislature should handle any related issues that come up.  They must not have been down at the capital during the 2004 legislative session.  By missing the point (that adding this amendment before these freedoms are seriously threatened was a major purpose behind it), they made the point of why it makes sense to add it to the constitution now, before animal rights activism in Louisiana grows in influence.  The papers also suggested that the amendment may tie the Legislature's hands in limiting hunting, fishing and trapping activities, thereby opening a "can of worms."  The amendment is very clear on that in making hunting, fishing and trapping subject to law and regulation that are necessary to preserve, protect and replenish the natural resources of the state.  However, prohibitions for other reasons not related to conservation, absent a clear and compelling public interest, are what the amendment is intended to address and protect against.  Clearly, a large majority of Louisiana voters agree with this rationale.

The following questions and answers provide background and explain what the amendment does and does not do.

What does "Freedom to Hunt, Fish and Trap" do?

Confirms that the freedom to hunt, fish and trap is an inherent right of citizenship and that the authority to limit that right for the common good is conveyed by the citizens to government, with the government accountable to the citizens.

Preempts the prohibition of hunting, fishing and trapping, except as required to meet the obligation to protect, conserve and replenish the natural resources of the state pursuant to Article 9, Section 1 of the Louisiana Constitution.

Serves to fend off attempts through emotional and zealous appeals, aimed at influencing a populace that is becoming ever more isolated from the production of the food it eats and the skills and traditions that built our society, to curtail the many traditional hunting/fishing/trapping activities enjoyed by Louisiana citizens and which were understood as a fundamental right by the immigrants who first settled our Nation, fleeing from tyrannical governments to find freedom in America.

Reinforces Louisiana's rich hunting, fishing and trapping heritage.

Reminds lawmakers and regulators of the importance of this heritage and their obligation to respect and protect it.

Will "Freedom to Hunt, Fish & Trap" permit hunting, fishing or trapping activities on private property without permission?

No. The amendment respects the right of property owners to restrict and control access to their property for hunting, fishing or trapping purposes.

Will "Freedom to Hunt, Fish & Trap" give a person the right to break wildlife and fisheries laws and regulations without consequences?

No. The amendment provides that the right to hunt/fish/trap be managed by law and regulation consistent with the State's obligation to protect, conserve, and replenish the State's natural resources.

Will "Freedom to Hunt, Fish & Trap" impair the enactment or effect of legislation or regulation that restricts or manages hunting, fishing, and trapping?

Not if such legislation/regulation is consistent with the State's obligation to protect, conserve and replenish the State's natural resources.

Will "Freedom to Hunt, Fish & Trap" prevent the State from limiting or revoking a citizen's right to hunt/fish/trap as a penalty for violation of the State's conservation laws?

No.  Similar to the freedom of speech, the right to own firearms and other rights guaranteed by the constitution, the freedom to hunt/fish/trap cannot be exercised in violation of the law or in such a way as to infringe the basic rights of others.  Freedom of speech does not permit the inciting of a riot or a life threatening situation by the use of frightening or abusive language; firearms cannot be carried into certain establishments or concealed without a permit; and convicted felons cannot possess firearms, even though both the US and Louisiana constitutions give citizens the right to bear arms.  Thankfully, the constitution does prevent government from taking away the right of law-abiding citizens to express an opinion, practice a religion of their choice, own and lawfully use a firearm, and vote.

What are the threats that make the "Freedom to Hunt, Fish and Trap" a good idea?

The population of the state is increasingly urban and detached from the reality of food production, and its relationship to the land and to wild nature.  Therefore Louisiana citizens are more subject than ever to ignoring that relationship and supporting efforts to prohibit hunting, fishing and trapping activities that are practiced by a diminishing proportion of citizens.

Is this a Louisiana idea?

No.  At least 8 other states have a provision in their constitutions similar to what Louisiana has adopted.  Wisconsin, Montana and Louisiana are the states that have most recently added this right to their constitutions.  Alabama is the closest neighbor that has such a constitutional provision. 

What organizations endorsed "Freedom to Hunt, Fish & Trap?"

The amendment was officially endorsed by the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, NRA, East Ascension Sportsman's League, Delta Waterfowl, Louisiana Association of Professional Biologists, National Taxidermist's Association, Safari Club International, Recreational Fishing Alliance, Conservation Force, Iberia Rod and Gun Club, Central Louisiana Chapter, SCI, Jefferson Rod and Gun Club, Westlake Hunting Club, Baton Rouge Sportsmen's League, Louisiana Trappers and Alligator Hunters Association, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission and Ducks Unlimited. 

 


 
 
 
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