Taking the offensive to protect hunters’ rights

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Now that we have been successful for the second time in defeating the bear referendum, we can go about our business. Our opposition, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), has gotten the message and will move on to more fertile soil. Right?

Wrong on both counts. We cannot afford to let down our guard, nor can we afford to assume that HSUS will pack up its dog-and-pony show and move along.

With a seemingly bottomless campaign war chest, and a determination born of a passionate ideology, HSUS has pledged not to be cowed by its recent defeat at the polls.

Now, today — while the memory of what could have happened to Maine’s bear hunting heritage is fresh in our minds — is the time to take the offensive. If we don’t, the outcome may not be so favorable the third time around.

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The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM), which can take a lot of credit for saving the bear hunt, is, to its credit, planning on taking the offensive. SAM’s director, David Trahan, says that “SAM and our Coalition partners are preparing a legislative agenda that will include legislation to protect hunting rights and stop HSUS from abusing our referendum system again.”

This is good news. There are a number of changes in the law that can make it more difficult for HSUS to ply its wares in the Pine Tree State. SAM has really come to the fore as a voice for Maine sportsmen. Its value has been proven time and time again. Sportsmen concerned about our hunting heritage can help by becoming a SAM member, and encouraging sportsmen friends to follow suit.

It would also seem, based on what has happened in many other states, that a hunting-rights provision needs to be added to our state constitution. Currently, there are 18 states that have consitutional provisions that guarantee the right to hunt and fish. There is similar constitutional legislation pending in Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

Maine might want to take a page from Nebraska. There, in 2012, the state legislature sent the amendment to a statewide popular vote. By a vote margin of 76 percent to 23 percent, Nebraska voters approved a hunting rights amendment to their state constitution.

The amendment reads: “A constitutional amendment to establish the right to hunt, to fish, and to harvest wildlife and to state that public hunting, fishing, and harvesting of wildlife shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”

Interestingly, Vermont has enjoyed a hunting-rights provision in its state constitution since statehood in 1777. It reads: “The inhabitants of this State shall have liberty in seasonable times, to hunt and fowl on the lands they hold, and on other lands not inclosed, and in like manner to fish in all boatable and other waters (not private property) under proper regulations, to be made and provided by the General Assembly.”

The question, of course, is: Would these state constitutional provisions protect all aspects of Maine’s hunting heritage from animal rights extremists like HSUS? Answers need to come from constitutional scholars.

Any and all of these appear to be steps in the right direction. In the Nebraska debate, legislators who opposed the hunting-rights provisions argued that they represented a “trivialization” of an important, hallowed document.

No doubt, that argument would be voiced by lawmakers from southern Maine’s urban voting block if ever we got to the constitutional debate. But what’s new? In the recent bear referendum vote, a majority of voters in Cumberland, Knox and York counties supported the bear hunting ban.

The key is to take the offensive early, and enact as many changes to the law as necessary to safeguard Maine’s hunting heritage and wildlife management processes.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.”

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