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.
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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.