For more than a decade, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission opposed efforts by lawmakers to elevate hunting, fishing and trapping to a constitutional right as a way to protect the beloved Idaho traditions from possible assault by animal-rights groups.
But this year Twin Falls Republican Sen. Lee Heider led a successful effort to place the issue on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The initiative asks Idaho voters to add language to the state constitution that says the rights to hunt, fish and trap ... shall forever be preserved.
This time, the Fish and Game Commission is endorsing it.
A group seeking to defeat the measure is focusing its attention on trapping, a practice even Heider acknowledged is controversial and used by a tiny segment of society. But he said that trapping is needed to manage predators like wolves and needs to be protected in the constitution.
The trappers were the very first people who came into our state, Heider said. It is a heritage that Idahoans still enjoy.
Greg Moore of Sun Valley, who heads the group Idahoans Against Trapping, disagrees. He says the initiative is misguided and unnecessary.
Hunting and fishing are so popular in Idaho that their future will never be threatened, he said.
But trapping is cruel and prolongs the death of animals it kills. Its future ought to be open for debate, not placed off-limits from scrutiny, Moore argued.
A surprising number of the hunters told us they dont like trapping, Moore said. Once people learn about it they are often horrified by it.
Of course, trappers have a different view.
Traps have been modernized to reduce the injuries to and suffering of animals, trappers say. And trappers seek to prevent cruelty to their quarry just as hunters and fishermen do, said Pat Carney of Mountain Home, president of the Idaho Trappers Association.
The ethical treatment of all animals is a concern for us, Carney said.
ENSURING WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT
The Idaho Department of Fish and Games initial opposition came from fears an amendment would raise doubts about its management and enforcement powers. But Heider worked with the Fish and Game Commission to write language that officials say does not challenge the agencys management.
Specifically, the language of the initiative separates the duty to preserve hunting, fishing and trapping from managing those rights through laws, rules and proclamations, Deputy Attorney General Steve Strack wrote in a letter to Democratic Sen. Elliot Werk in February.
Not everyone is convinced.
Ned Horner, from Coeur dAlene, is a retired Idaho Department of Fish and Game fisheries manager for northern Idaho. He worries the amendments language elevates harvest above habitat protection for fish and wildlife management. If the cover and food that sustains game and fish arent there, the right means little.
He also fears that language added at the request of the Idaho Water Users Association it says the amendment shall not establish any minimum amount of water in any water body may prevent the state from keeping water in rivers and lakes for fish.
We have streams and lakes up here that are not irrigation supplies, he said. What if someone wants to divert water to send to California or somewhere else and dry up a river? He fears the amendment might be construed to permit such uses.
Deputy AG Strack said in his letter that the amendment doesnt prevent the Legislature from establishing a minimum streamflow. It prevents a judge from concluding that the constitutional amendment by itself establishes minimum streamflows.
Vermont guaranteed the right to hunt and fish in its constitution in 1777. Since 1996, when the National Rifle Association began a national campaign to urge states to amend their constitutions to protect hunting, 12 other states have passed constitutional amendments.
Voters in just one state Arizona, in 2010 have rejected a similar measure.
Voters in Wyoming, Kentucky and Nebraska also are deciding right-to-hunt measures this November.
In a state like Idaho, where hunting and fishing are such broadly popular pursuits, is this initiative needed?
Yes, says sponsor Sen. Heider.
Hunting is threatened in Idaho, Heider said. Its threatened by the Humane Society and people who would rather look at birds than hunt them.
Not so, said retired Fish and Game manager Horner.
Right now my hunting and fishing rights are not threatened, Horner said. What concerns me is this creates some language that, if it is used to negatively affect habitat, then thats a bad thing.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484