Politics & Government

Who would have management control under hunting-rights amendment?

Who would have control of wildlife conservation and management under a proposed hunting-rights amendment to the state constitution is an important question on the issue for many in Kansas.
Who would have control of wildlife conservation and management under a proposed hunting-rights amendment to the state constitution is an important question on the issue for many in Kansas. File photo

This month, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, an animal-rights group from San Francisco, stopped a coyote hunting contest in western Kansas. Rep. Adam Lusker, D-Frontenac, said that’s why Kansans should have the right to hunt, fish and trap as part of the state’s constitution.

“That’s exactly what I’m worried about – someone coming in here and encroaching on our rights,” Lusker said. “What I’m supporting is a pre-emptive move to preserve what we’ve done for hundreds of years: fishing, hunting and trapping. I tell people it will change nothing that we have now, but it preserves everything we cherish for the future.”

Kansas voters will decide in November whether to amend the state’s constitution to make hunting, fishing and trapping a constitutional right.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and the National Rifle Association support the possible amendment, which says: “The people have the right to hunt, fish and trap, including by the use of traditional methods, subject to reasonable laws and regulations that promote wildlife conservation and management and that preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section shall not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights or water resources.”

Some are concerned.

Lori Lawrence, a Wichitan, said she has no problem with legal hunting as it is now in Kansas.

“That’s the thing; people can already do these things in Kansas. Why do we need to change things?” Lawrence said. “My fear is this could put all of the management in hunter’s hands. We have species you’re not supposed to hunt, for reasons. This could mean they can go out and kill whatever they want to kill that’s on their land. We don’t want wildlife managed by hunters instead of wildlife management people that know how to handle things.”

Lusker said the last sentence of the proposal deals directly with that.

“This doesn’t give anyone more right to trespass – you’d still have to have licenses and permits by the state and the federal government and obey all laws,” he said. “Nothing changes. There will still be seasons on hunting and fishing.”

Chris Tymeson, Wildlife and Parks attorney, said he felt comfortable the agency would always retain the right to set the state’s regulations for hunting, fishing and trapping.

Currently, 19 states grant residents the constitutional right to hunt and fish. In 1777, Vermont became the first. Alabama became the first state in modern times when it amended its constitution in 1996, and others began to follow. Indiana and Kansas are voting on the topic this year. California and Rhode Island have added fishing rights to their constitutions.

The NRA has worked to get the issues on the ballot in most of those states. Catherine Mortensen, NRA media liaison, would not discuss the amendment.

Elaine Giessel of the Kansas Sierra Club said the club’s parent organization has opposed such constitutional amendments. She, too, thinks the language of the proposal is too vague and gives too much power to hunters.

“It’s the ‘traditional hunting, fishing and trapping are the preferred means of wildlife control and management’ that’s troublesome,” said Giessel of Overland Park. “What means are they talking about, like driving buffalo over cliffs, snares, pitfalls?”

As an example, she referred to when the deer herd had to be reduced at Shawnee Mission Park in Johnson County. She said hunters control deer numbers through bow hunting in the park. Instead, sharpshooters were hired and killed more than 300 deer. Bow hunters eventually shot about 70 more.

“It’s an urban park surrounded by neighborhoods,” she said. “Public hunting was on the table, but that’s not the place for it. The sharpshooters came in, and the job (was) done safe and quick, like it should have been.”

Tymeson said his research showed that state game departments, and their biologists, still manage wildlife within the 19 states that have added the right to hunt to their constitution.

Sarah Hanneken of the Animal Legal Defense Fund also objected to the wording that said hunting, fishing and trapping were the preferred ways of managing wildlife.

“The language impedes the advancement of nonlethal population control methods, like we prefer,” she said, “like relocation and sterilization.”

Hanneken also said her group stopped organizers of a coyote hunt from holding another hunting contest through legal action. The group said the hunt violated state gambling laws since entrants paid to enter the contest and there was a $500 grand prize to whomever killed the most coyotes that day. Her group contended that luck determined who won the contest.

The first coyote hunt was held in WaKeeney in January. Hanneken said the organizers of the hunt settled the issue before it went to court, promising not to hold the hunt again and to pay more than $2,000 to help cover some of the legal fees of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. A news release for the group said it represented the Western Plains Animal Refuge in Hays, which they describe as wildlife rehabilitators. Managers of the refuge did not return calls.

Tymeson, Wildlife and Parks attorney, said he knew nothing about the ongoing legal issues until it had ended. He did not think the proposed amendment to the state’s constitution would have protected the organizers of the coyote hunt since the gambling allegation had nothing to do with hunting.

Still, Lusker, the legislator from Frontenac, said it shows there are direct threats to hunting in Kansas. Excise taxes on hunting gear and the fees that hunters pay for licenses and permits support most wildlife conservation programs in Kansas. Mike Miller, Wildlife and Parks information chief, said hunters add $400 million to the state’s economy and anglers add another $200 million. He said the figures come from a study done by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Giessel and Lawrence say voters are not aware the issue is on the ballot or that they haven’t researched the topic.

Miller said there’s no hidden agenda. It takes months for a proposed change to the constitution to work its way through the Legislature.

“It had to pass both state houses by a two-thirds majority to get on the ballot,” he said. “It’s been brought up (in previous years), and we remained neutral. We are in support of this particular resolution.”

Michael Pearce: 316-268-6382, @PearceOutdoors