Michael Pearce

Proposed Kansas hunting amendment makes sense

Mike Kimbell and his son, Jackson, were in Reno County on Saturday for the opening of duck season. A group of five hunters got eight ducks.
Mike Kimbell and his son, Jackson, were in Reno County on Saturday for the opening of duck season. A group of five hunters got eight ducks. The Wichita Eagle

A proposed amendment to the Kansas constitution making hunting, fishing and trapping a constitutional right has brought a lot of surprises.

Many voters don’t know there’s such an item on the ballot.

I’ve been surprised how quickly some saw nothing but evil within the proposed amendment. Some claim that if passed, the proposed amendment would destroy wildlife management as we know it. Others have lit up the Internet complaining it could strip landowners of private-property rights and insure hunters, anglers and trappers could go anywhere, anytime.

Here’s the wording:

“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.”

The National Rifle Association helped get the proposal rolling, then federal and state representatives of the group have declined interviews with me about it. Rep. Adam Lusker, D-Frontenac, played the main role in getting the concept pushed through the legislature. He has not returned calls since an initial interview.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism has has some information on its website. But more exposure and explanation of the proposed amendment could have soothed a lot of fears.

Comprehend what’s written

Most of the concerns I hear are the feared power such an amendment would give to hunters. Many think it would mean hunters would be exempt from seasons, limits, and having to buy permits. Input from professional biologists and the state’s wildlife commission and state agencies, would also be no more. One person feared endangered species could legally be hunted.

That’s not what the proposed amendment, though poorly worded, says.

It directly says hunting rights would be “subject to reasonable laws and regulations that promote wildlife conservation and management.” Chris Tymeson, Wildlife and Parks attorney, has repeatedly said he has faith his department would retain management and laws.

Some have asserted passage of the amendment would mean hunting and fishing would be the only ways to manage wildlife. The proposal says, “Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means…” As in one of the possibly several means of managing fish and wildlife. Nowhere does it say those are the preferred means of management.

Common sense

So far, 19 states have placed almost identical amendments. I’ve yet to find where it leads to problems. Texas, Alabama, Nebraska and others still have active game and fish departments. The wildlife still belongs to the people of those states and there is a long list of regulations hunters, anglers and trappers must obey.

In the past, Wildlife and Parks has not supported proposed amendments similar to this. This one they do. I don’t think our state game department would support anything that takes management and income out of their hands, but some do.

My biggest concern was making sure poachers could still be adequately punished. Suspension of hunting rights, from one year to forever, may be our most dreaded and effective punishment. Tymeson once worried the same, but is now secure that judges can still hand out any punishment that’s been used in recent years.

To get to the ballot, the proposed amendment had to get through both state houses. It did so with more than 90 percent approval from representatives and senators, after months of discussions. That says quite a bit.

Common sense also questions if the amendment is really needed since hunters, anglers and trappers are already pretty well protected in Kansas. If it passes, there’s no guarantee special-interest groups couldn’t end or severely limit the ability to hunt, fish and trap in Kansas.

If there is even a chance it could protect us, I’m for it.

If nothing else, I think it shows respect to a group of Kansans who have a combined impact of more than $600 million annually on the state’s economy, and raise more than $26 million, through licenses, fees and excise taxes, to fund conservation efforts in Kansas.