PHOENIX -- State lawmakers are moving to constitutionally protect the right to hunt and fish, a move backers admit is designed to undermine future voter efforts to restrict how that can be done.
On a 6-1 vote Wednesday, the House Committee on Military Affairs and Public Safety approved language that, if adopted by voters in November, would prohibit any law or regulation "that unreasonably restricts hunting, fishing and harvesting wildlife or the use of traditional means and methods.' It also would constitutionally make hunting "a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.'
Darren LaSorte, lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said various animals rights groups have tried to convince voters to enact various restrictions. That occurred in Arizona in 1994 when voters approved a ban the use of steel-jawed traps on public lands.
LaSorte told lawmakers there could be more problems on the horizon.
`There are powerful anti-hunting groups out there,' he said. "These anti-hunting groups are certainly becoming more active, more well funded.'
He said hunting needs protection from the "tyranny of the majority.'
Putting this language into the Arizona Constitution would not preclude future limits on hunting.
But it would ban changes to statute, whether by the Legislature or initiative, with the only option being a new constitutional amendment. And it would make the path of any outside group seeking such a change more difficult: It currently takes 230,047 valid signatures to propose a constitutional change, versus 153,365 to seek to amend state law.
Sandy Bahr who lobbies for the Sierra Club said her group is not seeking to ban hunting.
But she worried that the language would put legal constraints on any effort to use their judgment, based on scientific methods, to set even reasonable limits on the practice, limits that now are totally within the purview of the state Game and Fish Commission.
"I believe that science should be included in deciding what the 'bag' limits are, whether or not to hunt a particular species, whether or not to close a season,' Bahr testified. "Under this, science takes a back seat.'
Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale, who sponsored the measure, said that's not the case. It just requires hunting to be a preferred method.
"Hunting is a method of science as far as control,' he said.
"It's not a method of science,' Bahr responded. "It's a method of managing wildlife.'
And she said this proposal would place hunting and fishing "above all others' as a method of wildlife management.
LaSorte, however, said the proposal actually would protect the kind of science that Bahr said she wants.
"It is all about science, as opposed to prevailing political winds driving game management, wildlife management in this state,' he said.
The measure HCR 2008, is actually part of a national effort by the NRA. LaSorte said 10 states already have similar provisions; votes are planned in November in Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee -- and Arizona if this plan makes its way through the Legislature.
LaSorte acknowledged that what the NRA wants would provide constitutional protections to one type of activity that doesn't exist for others, such as golfing. But he said there's a good reason for that.
"No one is trying to ban golf,' LaSorte said. "But there are people trying to ban -- and very powerful people trying to ban -- hunting.'
And he said the historical perspective also sets it apart.
"We have been hunting for thousands of year, since fire was a novelty, since we could barely communicate with one another,' LaSorte said.
The proposal has the backing of the Game and Fish Commission, which voted 4-1 to support it. Commissioner Norman Freeman said they believe the language will protect their ability to make decisions about when and what to hunt.
HCR 2008 now goes to the full House.