NC’s hunt­ing amend­ment is a ploy, not a pro­tec­tion

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY THE N &O ED­I­TO­RIAL BOARD

Among the six pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments on the North Carolina bal­lot the most puz­zling may be the sim­plest. It reads: “Con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment pro­tect­ing the right of the peo­ple to hunt, fish and har­vest wildlife.”

Most vot­ers will won­der: Why does the right to hunt and fish need to be en­shrined in the North Carolina Con­sti­tu­tion?

The short an­swer is: It doesn’t.

The long an­swer is: pol­i­tics, in­clud­ing the cal­cu­la­tion that this un­needed amend­ment will bring more ru­ral Repub­li­cans to the polls.

Vot­ers should go with the short an­swer and keep this bit of po­lit­i­cal games­man­ship out of the state’s gov­ern­ing doc­u­ment.

There’s no threat to the right to hunt and fish and har­vest wildlife in North Carolina. That right is al­ready em­bed­ded in the state’s cul­ture and broadly rec­og­nized, even by ac­tivists com­mit­ted to the pro­tec­tion of an­i­mals.

There is, how­ever, a threat to the qual­ity of hunt­ing and fish­ing. The same Repub­li­can-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture that is push­ing this bal­lot-dress­ing amend­ment has worked against what makes for good hunt­ing and fish­ing — broad tracts or pre­served wilder­ness and clean water in streams and rivers.

Al­low­ing hog waste la­goons that can spill into rivers dur­ing storms, sus­pend­ing rules that would pro­tect the wa­ter­sheds of rivers lead­ing onto Jor­dan Lake and Falls Lake, en­cour­ag­ing devel­op­ment that en­croaches on sen­si­tive en­vi­ron­ments and re­duc­ing spend­ing on land preser­va­tion all de­grade the qual­ity and avail­abil­ity of fish and re­duce the habi­tat for game.

Since Repub­li­cans took con­trol of the leg­is­la­ture in 2011, the num­bers be­hind this ne­glect are clear. The gen­eral fund ap­pro­pri­a­tion for the N.C. Wildlife Re­sources Com­mis­sion has fallen from $21.5 mil­lion in the 2010-11 bud­get to $11.2 mil­lion in the cur­rent bud­get. Ten years ago, the Clean Water Man­age­ment Trust Fund was spend­ing $50 mil­lion a year to pre­serve open space. Now it’s spend­ing $14 mil­lion. The Nat­u­ral Her­itage Trust Fund, an­other fund­ing source for open land preser­va­tion, was elim­i­nated in 2013.

The amend­ment’s back­ers say the threat to hunt­ing and fish­ing isn’t a leg­is­la­ture con­tent to junk up the en­vi­ron­ment, but groups seek­ing to pro­tect an­i­mals from cruel trap­ping meth­ods and over har­vest­ing.

Sen. Tom McInnis, a Repub­li­can from Rich­mond County, who first pro­posed the amend­ment, said, “Through­out the coun­try, or­ga­ni­za­tions lobby every day to re­strict or even pro­hibit hunt­ing and fish­ing. The bill is not about the past, but about pro­tect­ing the rights of our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren to hunt and fish in North Carolina and I ex­pect vot­ers to agree.”

McInnis’ ex­pec­ta­tion is likely cor­rect. Most vot­ers will sup­port the right to hunt and fish, which demon­strates that right is not at risk.

So why is it on the bal­lot? One rea­son is the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion backs it and Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors are ever ea­ger to please the NRA. Sim­i­lar amend­ments have been pushed around the coun­try. Since 1996, 20 states — in­clud­ing every South­ern state ex­cept North Carolina and Florida — have added right to hunt and fish amend­ments to their con­sti­tu­tions.

An­other driver is a de­sire to limit fu­ture re­stric­tions. If ap­proved, the amend­ment likely will lead to more law­suits chal­leng­ing the reg­u­la­tion of hunt­ing and fish­ing.

This amend­ment is not re­ally about shoot­ing deer or ducks. It’s about shoot­ing down en­vi­ron­men­tal laws and reg­u­la­tions. North Carolini­ans should re­ject this need­less amend­ment.

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