Are hun­ters an en­dan­gered species? N.C. vot­ers will de­cide

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Insight - BY CHAR­LOTTE HAR­RIS chhar­[email protected]­sob­server.com

Vot­ers will de­cide this Novem­ber whether to amend the state con­sti­tu­tion to make North Carolina the 22nd state to pro­tect hunt­ing and fish­ing as a right. But the pro­posal has some an­i­mal­wel­fare and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups wor­ried that its vague lan­guage could keep the state from re- strict­ing un­safe or in­hu­mane hunt­ing meth­ods.

Some sup­port­ers of the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment say there is an at­tack on hunt­ing across the coun­try be­ing driven by ex­trem­ists. Other back­ers say it’s meant to pre­vent fu­ture re­stric­tions on hunt­ing as North Carolina con­tin­ues to grow rapidly.

Crit­ics, though, say the amend­ment is un­nec­es­sary and shows the power of the gun lobby over law­mak­ers who de­cide what amend­ments go on the bal­lot.

Jill Fritz, di­rec­tor for wildlife pro­tec­tion at the Hu­mane So­ci­ety of the United States, said sup­port­ers around the coun­try are push­ing the idea that with­out th­ese amend­ments, cit­i­zens or in­ter­est groups will try to pre­vent sports­men from be­ing able to hunt and fish in the fu­ture.

“Th­ese types of amend- ments are a solution in search of a prob­lem,” Fritz said. “No­body is ac­tively try­ing to elim­i­nate all hunt­ing and fish­ing in the United States.”

Rep. Pricey Har­ri­son, a Greens­boro Demo­crat, said she thinks the bill is part of a plan to turn out vot­ers in the Novem­ber elec­tions as Re­pub­li­cans fear they may lose the su­per­ma­jor­ity they hold in the Gen­eral Assem­bly.

The amend­ment is one of six pro­posed by the Re­pub­li­can-con­trolled state leg­is­la­ture to be on the fall bal­lot.

Har­ri­son com­plained when the hunt­ing bill made its way through the state House that the vague lan­guage could en­dan­ger cur­rent hunt­ing reg­u­la­tions and in­hibit at­tempts at fu­ture wildlife man­age­ment reg­u­la­tions.

Har­ri­son tried to add lan­guage en­sur­ing in­hu­mane meth­ods such as steel jaw traps and poi­son couldn’t be used and that Sun­day hunt­ing re­stric­tions would stay in place. Those ef­forts to amend the bill failed.

“The amend­ment is not carte blanche to har­vest wildlife with­out reg­u­la­tion,” John Cul­cla­sure, the cen­tral Ap­palachian states man­ager for a group that sup­ports the amend­ment, the Con­gres­sional Sports­men’s Foun­da­tion, said in an email. “Hunt­ing sea­sons, bag lim­its, and other re­stric­tions would still ap­ply.”

The foun­da­tion’s web­site de­scribes it as a net­work of pro-sports­men elected of­fi­cials that “pro­tect and ad­vance hunt­ing, angling, recre­ational shoot­ing and trap­ping.”

The pro­posed amend­ment doesn’t men­tion trap­ping, but says peo­ple have the right to use “tra­di­tional meth­ods to hunt, fish and har­vest wildlife.” Op­po­nents have com­plained that lan­guage is too vague.

“What the Con­gres­sional Sports­men’s Foun­da­tion says is by us­ing a phrase like tra­di­tional meth­ods, pro­po­nents can give a stronger pro­tec­tion to trap­ping with­out ac­tu­ally men­tion­ing trap­ping,” Fritz said.

In North Carolina, trap­ping li­censes are on the

rise. They have in­creased 33 per­cent in the past decade, though the to­tal num­bers are still rel­a­tively small — 2,283 in fis­cal year 2018.

In con­trast, hunt­ing li­cense sales have dropped about 12 per­cent. In the last fis­cal year, the state sold 227,732. That in­cludes short-term, an­nual and life­time li­censes, some of which al­low fish­ing too.

The amend­ment would also make hunt­ing and fish­ing the “pre­ferred means of man­ag­ing and con­trol­ling wildlife.”

Fritz said this is in re­sponse to cit­i­zen ef­forts around the coun­try to mod­ern­ize wildlife man­age­ment. She said there are cases of ur­ban and suburban com­mu­ni­ties where res­i­dents would pre­fer firearms not be used to man­age the deer pop­u­la­tion be­cause it isn’t a safe method in highly pop­u­lated ar­eas.

State Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Union County Re­pub­li­can and a spon­sor of the bill, said he doubts the amend­ment would have im­me­di­ate im­pact but it would help sus­tain the state’s hunt­ing her­itage long-term. He said as the state grows and be­comes more densely pop­u­lated peo­ple may want to re­strict hunt­ing in cer­tain ar­eas.

“I would not say it was un­der at­tack in North Carolina,” Tucker said. “It is the pos­si­bil­ity of the fu­ture of the her­itage of hunt­ing be­ing re­moved through mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and coun­ties and by re­strict­ing hunt­ing rights in cer­tain ar­eas.”

Ques­tions about what kind of reg­u­la­tions will still be al­lowed un­der the amend­ment may end up be­ing an­swered in the courts.

‘PRI­VATE IN­FLU­ENCE’

As leg­is­la­tors grap­ple with is­sues like mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar hog farm law­suits, the opi­oid cri­sis and seg­re­ga­tion in pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, some op­po­nents of the amend­ment are ask­ing how it earned a spot on the bal­lot.

Those crit­ics point to the in­flu­ence of the National Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion and the Con­gres­sional Sports­men’s Foun­da­tion, both tied to the gun in­dus­try and with po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence na­tion­wide.

The North Carolina amend­ment is sim­i­lar to what other states have on the books and to lan­guage posted on the web­site of the NRA’s lob­by­ing arm as a tem­plate for states to use.

The idea of en­shrin­ing hunt­ing as a right dates to 1777, when Ver­mont be­came the first state to in­clude it in its con­sti­tu­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Con­gres­sional Sports­men’s Foun­da­tion. The mod­ern wave of amend­ments be­gan in 1996, a few years af­ter the foun­da­tion started.

The NRA and Con­gres­sional Sports­men’s Foun­da­tion both tes­ti­fied in sup­port of the North Carolina leg­is­la­tion be­fore a com­mit­tee in June.

Through reg­u­lar fundrais­ing events — and fre­quent re­cep­tions with food and drinks, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports — the foun­da­tion has ac­cess to an ex­ten­sive net­work of elected of­fi­cials.

The foun­da­tion is tied to the Con­gres­sional Sports­men’s Cau­cus, which has nearly 300 mem­bers of Congress, and sep­a­rate or­ga­ni­za­tions for state elected lead­ers. The NC Leg­isla­tive Sports­men’s Cau­cus, also tied to the foun­da­tion, has al­most 100 North Car- olina state leg­is­la­tors as mem­bers, ac­cord­ing to Cul­cla­sure.

The group’s web­site lists three of the mem­bers, in­clud­ing Wake County Re­pub­li­can Sen. John M. Alexan­der, Rep. Michael Wray, a Demo­crat from Gas­ton, and Rep. Larry Yar­bor­ough, a Re­pub­li­can from Roxboro. It also lists Gov. Roy Cooper, a Demo­crat, as a mem­ber of its gov­er­nors’ cau­cus.

The foun­da­tion’s web­site touts its in­flu­ence. It states “no or­ga­ni­za­tion has ac­cess to so many elected of­fi­cials,” adding that “we know how im­por­tant it is to have an ef­fec­tive voice in the po­lit­i­cal arena look­ing out for your in­ter­ests.”

Ac­cord­ing to the foun­da­tion’s web­site, the NRA is a “ti­ta­nium spon­sor.” The foun­da­tion’s pres­i­dent, Jeff Crane, pre­vi­ously served as the vice-chair­man of the NRA’s Hunt­ing and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mit­tee.

Laura Nierem­berg is the founder of the Cen­ter for Wildlife Ethics, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that fought against a sim­i­lar hunt­ing and fish­ing amend­ment when it was brought to In­di­ana in 2004. She said th­ese bills seem to have lit­tle im­pact on wildlife pro­tec­tions. She doesn’t know of any ef­forts in In­di­ana to cite the amend­ment in court dis­putes.

“The leg­is­la­tures have big­ger prob­lems that ben­e­fit the col­lec­tive good of ev­ery­body that they could be ad­dress­ing but they waste time with this,” Nierem­berg said.

Nierem­berg said there’s mis­lead­ing lan­guage in leg­is­la­tion like In­di­ana’s and North Carolina’s that pro­tects the prac­tice of trap­ping with­out nam­ing it. She said a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment shouldn’t be mis­lead­ing to the pub­lic.

“This cookie-cut­ter leg­is­la­tion we’re see­ing that keeps get­ting passed

‘‘ THERE’S NOTH­ING RE­ALLY ANY MORE ‘EAT LO­CAL’ THAN HAR­VEST­ING YOUR OWN PRO­TEINS, AND I’M ALL FOR THAT WHETHER IT’S A GAME AN­I­MAL, A GAME BIRD OR A FISH. Stephen Faust, hunt­ing guide and dog trainer from Statesville

around, it’s so ob­scene and it has noth­ing to do with the will of the peo­ple,” Nierem­berg said. “It has noth­ing to do with the best in­ter­est of the pub­lic. It’s … cater­ing to pri­vate in­ter­ests.”

‘NUM­BERS ARE DROP­PING’

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice re­leased national sur­vey re­sults in 2016 that showed more than 103 mil­lion Amer­i­cans over the age of 16 par­tic­i­pated in a form of wildlife recre­ation.

The re­sults showed an in­crease of 20 per­cent since 2011 in the num­ber of peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing in wildlife watch­ing, which refers to ob­serv­ing, feed­ing or pho­tograph­ing wildlife, to more than 86 mil­lion peo­ple in 2016. Spend­ing as part of those ac­tiv­i­ties in­creased 28 per­cent to $ 75.9 bil­lion, which in­cludes equip­ment, mag­a­zine and mem­ber­ship dues.

Fish­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in­creased 8 per­cent from 2011, but hunt­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion fell nearly 16 per­cent, los­ing nearly 2 mil­lion peo­ple and leav­ing 11.5 mil­lion hun­ters in 2016 — about 5 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion. There was also a 29 per­cent de­cline in spend­ing by hun­ters, drop­ping ex­pen­di­tures to $26 bil­lion.

“Num­bers are drop­ping and that’s not a good thing,” said Stephen Faust, a hunt­ing guide and dog trainer from Statesville.

Faust said that’s be­cause hunt­ing is un­der at­tack across the coun­try from an­i­mal rights groups. He said peo­ple are try­ing to make it more dif­fi­cult for hun­ters to ac­cess pub­lic game lands by ded­i­cat­ing them to uses like wildlife watch­ing, which makes it harder for them to find some­where to hunt.

Faust, who has had a hunt­ing li­cense since 1985, said for him hunt­ing isn’t about the killing or sport, but rather about spend­ing time among wildlife and har­vest­ing his own meals.

“There’s noth­ing re­ally any more ‘eat lo­cal’ than har­vest­ing your own pro­teins, and I’m all for that whether it’s a game an­i­mal, a game bird or a fish,” Faust said.

As for the crit­i­cism that Re­pub­li­cans are try­ing to rally vot­ers, Faust said the amend­ment isn’t a par­ti­san is­sue and he knows plenty of Demo­cratic hun­ters who will also sup­port it.

North Carolina has sev­eral re­stric­tions on Sun­day hunt­ing. Faust said he would like to see those lifted, even though he grew up go­ing to church ev­ery Sun­day.

“I think it just boils down to a per­sonal de­ci­sion and if some­one doesn’t want to go hunt­ing on Sun­day that’s fine, but if some­body wants to and that’s one of maybe his or her only days off in the week then I feel that shouldn’t be a law,” Faust said, not­ing that many states don’t have such reg­u­la­tions.

The Con­gres­sional Sports­men’s Foun­da­tion is a mem­ber of the Sun­day Hunt­ing Coali­tion, which works to re­move state re­stric­tions on Sun­day hunt­ing wher­ever pos­si­ble. How­ever, Cul­cla­sure said the amend­ment would have no bear­ing on Sun­day hunt­ing re­stric­tions.

Dex­ter Tart, a sports­man from Wake County, said that hunt­ing should be seen as a right, not a priv­i­lege.

Tart said mak­ing hunt­ing an of­fi­cial right would pro­tect the hunt­ing com­mu­nity against anti-hunt­ing and fish­ing groups try­ing on the national and state lev­els to com­bat hunt­ing.

“It gives us pro­tec­tions against that sort of emo­tional push from the far left that would have it an­other way,” Tart said.

Faust and Tart both men­tioned the money that hun­ters con­trib­ute to state wildlife con­ser­va­tion and restora­tion. A fed­eral law im­poses an ex­cise tax of 11 per­cent on sport­ing arms, am­mu­ni­tion and archery equip­ment and 10 per­cent on hand­guns. Money brought in by this tax pro­vides fund­ing for restora­tion of wild an­i­mal pop­u­la­tions and their habi­tats. It also pro­vides fund­ing for hunter train­ing pro­grams and the main­te­nance of pub­lic game lands. In 2017 the NC Wildlife Re­sources Com­mis­sion re­ceived a lit­tle over $16 mil­lion from the fed­eral tax for state con­ser­va­tion projects.

“Any­body’s al­lowed to use pub­lic land like the game lands. You can go hik­ing on it, mountain bik­ing, kayak­ing but the hun­ters are the ones pay­ing for it,” Faust said.

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