Kansas became the 20th state to amend its constitution to protect the rights of residents to hunt and fish.
By 11 p.m. Tuesday, with more than half of the state’s precincts reporting, the measure to amend the constitution was winning by a 4-to-1 ratio.
Supporters said the change is needed to head off future attempts by animal welfare groups to restrict hunting. Some environmentalists questioned the need, saying hunting, fishing and trapping get little resistance in Kansas.
The proposed amendment says that people have the right to hunt, fish and trap, subject to reasonable laws and regulations.
Nineteen states already have similar provisions within their constitutions, and it also was on the ballot in Indiana, where it appeared to be headed toward passage Tuesday evening. In most states, the National Rifle Association has helped promote the right-to-hunt amendments.
Rep. Adam Lusker, D-Frontenac, helped get the proposal through the Kansas Legislature and before voters. In an earlier interview, he called the amendment a “pre-emptive move” to preserve hunting, fishing and trapping for future generations. Lusker pointed to a recent lawsuit filed by a California-based animal rights group to stop a western Kansas coyote hunting contest as proof that hunting needs as much protection as possible. The group sued on the grounds that 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. The sponsors of the coyote hunt agreed not to hold future contests to settle the lawsuit.
Tim Donges, an avid hunter from El Dorado, said he expected the amendment to pass.
He said the time will come when Kansas hunters, anglers and trappers are threatened by animal-rights groups.
“There’s a push across the entire United States, and these groups are taking pieces away, one at a time, from hunters and trappers,” he said. “They pick their battles. We need any kind of added protection.”
Though she opposed the amendment, Elaine Giessel, Kansas Sierra Club conservation chairwoman, said she expected it to pass.
“There was so little information provided on both sides,” she said. “I think people’s gut reaction is that it’s part of our culture.”
She fears passage could lead to added work on the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
“I just think it’s going to end up being more work for the professionals, and they’ve been doing a pretty good job,” she said. “We think wildlife management decisions should be based on science … and not politically motivated for some special interest group.”
In Sedgwick County, 80 percent of the voters approved the amendment.