The Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing Thursday on a proposal that aims to make hunting, trapping and fishing a constitutional right in Maine.
This is the third attempt by the National Rifle Association and its Maine supporters to accomplish this objective. If supported by the Legislature, the proposal would be put before voters on the 2017 statewide referendum ballot.
Testimony in favor of a prior right-to-hunt bill underscores the intent to silence Maine citizens concerned about inhumane, unethical hunting and trapping practices and prevent citizens from initiating ballot initiatives on wildlife-related issues. The latest proposal, L.D. 11, says that “the right of the people of this state to hunt, fish and harvest game and fish, including by the use of traditional methods, may not be infringed …” It also provides that “public hunting and fishing are a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”
This is a misguided move to serve special interests. The Maine Constitution is primary law. It provides the basic architecture for government and society. One of its key purposes is to “promote our common welfare.” Over nearly 200 years, it has been amended more than 170 times, but never to give special privileges to one class of citizens and rescind the right of other citizens to have a voice on critical matters of public interest such as wildlife management.
The bill is redundant and unnecessary. Hunters and trappers are a powerful minority in Maine, not a persecuted one.
Hunting rights are not in jeopardy in Maine. The state’s hunters and trappers have both power and privilege. In fact, hunting and trapping proponents already changed state law in 2016 to make not science, but hunting, fishing and trapping the basis for managing our state’s wildlife. This was accomplished when a bill designed to discourage wildlife ballot initiatives was completely rewritten after its public hearing, approved by the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee and pushed through the Legislature.
For the past 30 years, hunters and trappers have been given full access to hunt and trap on more than half a million acres of land purchased with Land for Maine’s Future Program funds. The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department largely functions to serve hunter and trapper interests, not the broader public, because the agency’s funding depends on income derived from the sale of licenses, guns and ammunition.
The wording of the bill, such as the vague, undefined terms “harvest” and “use of traditional methods,” could enable the reintroduction of practices and tools that are unacceptable to the public. What “traditional methods” are we talking about? How could we ensure they would be safe, rational and ethical? If L.D. 11 becomes law, the public would have no legal pathway to object to trapping brutality, or to the use of tools currently banned, such as snares and slingshots.
L.D. 11 was driven by the NRA and drafted by the organization, with minimal edits by the measure’s Maine proponents. The NRA’s goal is to fossilize hunter and trapper interests in state constitutions in order to thwart future debate on wildlife issues that deserve to remain in the public forum.
The NRA’s signature method is to frame hunting and trapping as “science-driven” wildlife management, and to whip up fear and exaggerated claims that inflame its base of supporters with imaginary threats from so-called “animal rights extremists.” It also suggests that some truly fundamental right is under siege.
The passage of this bill would set the stage for costly disputes and court battles. Would it affect the rights of the public to control publicly owned property? Could the rights of our towns to enact their ordinances related to land-use be overridden? The number of ways that current and future management practices and regulations could conflict with this new set of “rights” is endless.
The right to hunt and trap is not a societal core value. It is not essential to our citizenship. The vast majority of Maine citizens do not participate in it. Elevating pastimes that have undergone a steady decline in popularity from a regulated privilege to the lofty status of a protected right is unsupportable.
This proposal mocks the Maine Constitution and sets a dangerous precedent sure to open the floodgates for more special-interest politicking.
Maine’s advancement requires a governmental process that is responsive to the public’s will. This proposal blatantly violates the integrity and fundamental purpose of our democratic principles and should be emphatically rejected by all citizens.