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State Constitutional Right to Hunt and Fish

State Constitutional Right to Hunt and Fish

9/26/2014

Compiled by Douglas Shinkle

fish and huntSeventeen states guarantee the right to hunt and fish in their constitutions, with 16 of those approved via the voters. While Vermont's language dates back to 1777, the rest of these constitutional provisions -- in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming -- have passed since 1996.  California and Rhode Island have language in their respective constitutions guaranteeing the right to fish, but not to hunt.  Advocates also consider Alaska’s constitutional language, which states “Wherever occurring in their natural state, fish, wildlife, and waters are reserved to the people for common use,” as meeting the test due to its strong case law history.

2014 Update

Alabama and Mississippi voters will both cast ballots on a constitutional right to hunt and fish in November. Alabama enacted legislation in 2014, while Mississippi’s measure was passed in 2012 referring the issue to voters.  Alabama’s measure would refine already established language, adding that hunting and fishing are the “preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife,” and Mississippi’s contains similar language.

Eight states— Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia—considered bills in 2014 proposing the creation of a state constitutional amendment to protect the right to hunt and fish. The Indiana legislature adopted a resolution calling for an amendment establishing the right to hunt and fish in their constitution, but it must also pass in the 2015 or 2016 legislative session to be placed on the ballot. Legislation in Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania is pending, while Missouri and West Virginia’s bills failed.  

2012 Election Update

In November of 2012, voters in four more states—Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Wyoming—overwhelmingly passed legislatively referred ballot measures to add a constitutional right to hunt and fish. Seven other states—Hawaii, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Pennsylvania—considered legislation to amend the constitution to add the right to hunt and fish in 2012, but were unsuccessful.

2010 Election Update

Arizona, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Tennessee had measures on the 2010 ballot to enshrine the right to hunt and fish in their state constitutions. The measures in Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee passed, but Arizona became the first state to reject such an initiative.
 

State Year of Adoption
Alabama 1996
Arkansas 2010
Georgia 2006
Idaho 2012
Kentucky 2012
Louisiana 2004
Minnesota 1998
Montana 2004
Nebraska 2012
North Dakota 2000
Oklahoma 2008
South Carolina 2010
Tennessee 2010
Vermont 1777
Virginia 2000
Wisconsin 2003
Wyoming 2012
 

 

Hunting and Fishing a Constitutional Right?

2008 State Legislatures article

Sportsmen in many states increasingly feel as if they are the ones outside the duck blind, and they are turning to state constitutions to ensure their hallowed pastime will continue in perpetuity. Increasing urbanization, decreased habitat, declining numbers of sportsmen, and more restrictions on hunting are common factors in the quest to assert the right to hunt and fish in a state's most basic and difficult-to-amend document. On land that has been traditionally open to sportsmen, development of farmland and forests, along with pressure from other recreational groups such as hikers and off-road vehicles, is putting the pinch on the available land for harvesting game and fish.

Well-organized animal rights groups and limitations on methods, seasons and bag limits for certain game species have provoked many hunter advocacy groups to lobby for hunting and fishing as a right, and their call is being heard in statehouses across the country. Twenty-two states, including 12 in 2008 alone, have introduced legislation or ballot measures on this issue, with Oklahoma and Tennessee's measures passing in 2008 and Oklahoma's headed to the ballot in November (it later passed). Senator Glen Coffee, sponsor of the Oklahoma resolution, noted that hunting and fishing have "Historically been unfettered rights," and "Oklahoma was formed by populist people and our constitution is very long already, so I think people do think it is the appropriate place to address this." Senator Coffee feels good about the referendum's chance of success in November.

Opponents state that these provisions clutter a constitution and overstate the threat to these activities, while possibly limiting or increasing the amount and severity of restrictions that can be placed on sportsmen activities. The Humane Society states, "The constitution should guarantee fundamental democratic rights, not provide protection for a recreational pastime."

Some states, such as Florida, have inserted the right to hunt and fish into state statutes, but have not taken the more drastic step of embedding it in the state constitution. The road to changing the constitution often goes through legislatures, with legislators typically introducing resolutions to ask the voters to approve changes.
 

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