Advocates for those who hunt and fish say a ballot proposition that would establish a constitutional right to those sports in Arizona is long overdue.
“There’s material in the constitution about timber, about mining, about a lot of what affects the outdoors,” said Tom Mackin, president of the Arizona Wildlife Federation. “But there’s not one word in there about wildlife, and we felt that it’s imperative to change that.”
Proposition 109 would guarantee Arizonans the right to “hunt, fish and harvest wildlife lawfully.” It would prohibit any law or rule that unreasonably restricts hunting or fishing using traditional means.
The measure also would establish the Legislature as the sole authority regulating those activities, though lawmakers could delegate rule-making authority to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission.
Opponents such as Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, say hunting and fishing should remain privileges, as is the case with driving. Bahr said amending the constitution would change the way officials can manage hunting and fishing and how citizens can change things via initiative.
“You’re putting it on par with things like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, right to bear arms, all of those very important fundamental rights,” Bahr said. “We find that pretty outrageous.”
If voters approve Proposition 109, Arizona would become the 11th state to make hunting and fishing a constitutional right.
Organized under the banner Arizonans Against the Power Grab, the Sierra Club, the Animal Defense League of Arizona and The Humane Society of the United States argue that giving the Legislature sole authority over hunting and fishing would interfere with people putting forward initiatives.
While Proposition 109 would preclude initiatives that seek to amend state statues on hunting and fishing, citizens would still be able to bring initiatives that seek to amend the state constitution. Initiatives to amend statutes require petitions signed by 10 percent of registered voters, while the requirement is 15 percent for initiatives to amend the constitution.
Opponents note that voters in 1994 approved a citizen initiative amending state statues to ban the use of steel-jawed traps that grip animals’ legs and other body parts as well as the use of poisons on public lands. If Proposition 109 takes effect, they say, such a change would require amending the constitution and getting more petition signatures.
“It’s totally a power grab,” said Stephanie Nichols-Young, president of the Animal Defense League of Arizona.
John Koleszar, president of the Arizona Deer Association, a group advocating for hunters and effective management of wildlife, said Proposition 109 would continue a long tradition of sound management of hunting and fishing in Arizona.
“I have faith in our Legislature to handle this issue appropriately,” Koleszar said.
Kari Neinstedt, director for the Arizona office of The Humane Society of the United States, said the proposition’s language barring any law or rule that “unreasonably restricts” hunting or fishing would invite lawsuits.
“If a poacher decides that any restrictions on what he’s doing are unreasonable, then he can challenge that in court,” Neinstedt said. “This is something that opens a lot of problems and solves nothing.”
But Jennifer Martin, chairwoman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, said that critics of Proposition 109 are overreacting.
“Anyone labeling this as a power grab is simply misinterpreting the language,” Martin said. “What seems to be lost here is that this really won’t represent any change to the status quo.”
Proposition 109 provisions:
• Make hunting, fishing and harvesting wildlife a constitutional right.
• Give the state Legislature exclusive authority to regulate these activities.
• Prohibit laws that unreasonably restrict hunting, fishing and harvesting wildlife.
• Establish hunting and fishing as a preferred means of managing and controlling?wildlife.