Wyoming hunting rights bill

Russell Hiser of Douglas, Wyo., stops to take a look for elk along a hillside south of Douglas in early December. The Wyoming Senate on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a resolution that would allow voters to decide whether to enshrine the right to hunt and fish in the state constitution.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Wyoming Senate gave tentative approval Tuesday to a proposal to preserve citizens' rights to hunt and fish by locking the guarantee in the state's constitution.

Senate Joint Resolution 1, sponsored by Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, comes up for second reading in the Senate today.

If the measure passes, Wyoming will join the national movement to protect hunters' rights.

Last November Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee adopted “right to hunt” constitutional amendments.

Hicks gave the Senate a history lesson when he explained the bill Tuesday.

He said that in England, the Crown owned wildlife and persisted in that belief even though the Magna Carta, adopted in 1215, recognized the public rights to wildlife.

In the American colonies, almost every colonial charter recognized the right of the colonists to take wildlife, Hicks said. Although there were many attempts to insert the right in the U.S. Constitution, James Madison reserved the right to the states.

Wyoming, meanwhile, is fifth in the nation in the percentage of its population that hunts and fishes, with one-third of the citizens holding licenses. The state was settled by trappers and has a cultural history of hunting and fishing.

Hicks said large, well-funded organizations are behind the pro-animal rights, anti-hunting movement.

It is important, he said, to bind future generations to recognize hunting and fishing rights by putting it in the state's constitution.

“Let the people decide,” Hicks said.

Opponents of the proposed constitutional amendment mostly dislike adopting the guarantee in the constitution, which is difficult to change. They also questioned the severity of the threat from anti-hunting forces.

“I don't think we should change the constitution,” said Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette.

He said that without restraint, if someone in the future believed electric vehicles were a threat, the cars could also be banned in the constitution.

Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, said he doubts the threat will reach Wyoming before five or 10 years. But he said he is aware of what wealthy people and groups in other states can do with getting initiatives on the ballot.

Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, a co-sponsor of the bill, also urged adoption, saying the threats are real.

Driskill said earlier that hunting rights are under attack by radical organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States, not to be confused with the Humane Society that rescues stray dogs and cats.

Without action to preserve those rights, Driskill predicted a piecemeal approach in future years to limit those rights “bit by bit.”

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