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Right to hunt and fish

Bo Allen walks off the field with his German wire-haired pointer Hershey after completing his first round in the pointing competition of the Wyoming Upland Classic west of Casper in early October. Three freshman lawmakers will attempt to preserve citizens' rights to hunt and fish by inserting the guarantee into the Wyoming Constitution.

KERRY HULLER/Casper Star-Tribune

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Some Wyoming lawmakers are following other states in an attempt to preserve citizens' rights to hunt and fish by inserting the guarantee in the state's constitution.

In the November general election, voters approved “right to hunt” constitutional amendments in Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The ballot proposal failed in Arizona when only 44 percent of voters approved it.

The national movement to protect hunters' rights has been under way for at least the past decade.

The proposed Wyoming amendment is sponsored by state Sens.-elect Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, and Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and Rep.-elect Kendell Kroeker, R-Evansville.

Driskill said Monday that the threat is real. Hunting rights are under attack, he said, by animal rights organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States.

This is a “radical group” not to be confused with the Humane Society that rescues stray dogs and cats, he said. Some states, Driskill said, have been pushed to limit trapping.

“A huge part of the population does not hunt and fish anymore,” Driskill said.

He mentioned a recent Associated Press story that said hunting is losing popularity across the country.

He predicted bills will be introduced in the future to restrict the way Wyoming manages game and to limit fishing and trapping.

“I feel that in time we'll see 'death by a thousand slices' as these rights are limited bit by bit,” Driskill said. “Part of our culture is to hunt, fish and trap.”

The bill would preserve in the Wyoming Constitution a right citizens take for granted, Driskill said.

Kroeker said a strong national anti-gun lobby is another threat to hunting rights. He noted that one such group asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency to ban the use of lead in bullets.

“We want to be sure it's protected for the future,” he said of hunting and fishing rights.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Steve Ferrell said the agency has not yet taken a position on the bill.

Game and fish agencies in other states balked at similar ballot proposals because they appeared to interfere with the state's authority to revoke a hunting license, for example, or to limit the number of licenses issued for a certain species.

Although it appears that the wording in the Wyoming bill will not create those types of problems, Ferrell said he asked the department's attorney to look at the bill to make sure.

The anti-hunting movement is one reason states are trying to protect hunting rights, he said.

Ferrell noted that the state of California several years ago passed a law to ban the hunting of mountain lions.

Senate Joint Resolution No. 1 reads, “The opportunity to harvest wild bird, fish and game is a heritage that shall forever be preserved to the individual citizens of the state and does not create a right to trespass on private property, diminish other private rights or diminish the duty of the state to manage wild bird, fish and game in such a manner that ensures adequate populations and sustained use.”

The bill, according to the explanation that will appear on the ballot, proposes to amend the Wyoming Constitution by “recognizing and preserving the heritage of Wyoming citizens' opportunity to harvest wild birds, fish and game.”

The bill will require a two-thirds majority vote in the House and Senate to get on the 2012 general election ballot.

The hunting rights protection movements “tend to be pushed more by the gun rights community rather than by the conservation community,” said Walt Gasson, director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation.

The bill isn't as simple as it seems, he said. In other states, people have objected to putting the protection in the state's constitution, he said.

“Nobody can conclude it will be a slam dunk just because we are a major hunting state,” Gasson said.

Contact Joan Barron at joan.barron@trib.com or 307-632-1244.

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