Vermont had it right along.
Now, nearly 240 years later, other states are trying to protect the rights of their hunters and fishermen.The legislatures in eight states -- Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia -- are considering constitutional amendments to protect hunting and fishing rights. Alabama already has such legislation on the books but is considering a more expansive one.
Vermont included such rights in Article 67 of its original constitution, which was first ratified in 1777, while the Revolutionary War raged and a full 14 years before Vermont was admitted into the Union. It states, “That the inhabitants of this State, shall have liberty to hunt and fowl, in seasonable times, on the lands they hold, and on other lands (not enclosed;) and, in like manner, to fish in all beatable and other waters, not private property, under proper regulations, to be hereafter made and provided by the General Assembly.”
It took some time, certainly, but other states finally saw things the same away. The other 16 states with constitutional amendments have approved hunting and fishing rights legislation within the past two decades, including seven in the past five years.
Fearing that anti-hunting groups were gaining leverage in the early 2000s, the NRA asked a group of constitutional scholars to draft language that states could use as models.
“Groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and the Humane Society were going after these laws, sort of in an incremental way,” NRA spokesman Catherine Mortensen told the Associated Press.
“Hunting and fishing and harvesting of wildlife are part of the American fabric. We do feel it’s increasingly under attack by well-organized, well-funded anti-hunting groups.”
Brent Steele, a Republican state senator in Indiana, wrote the hunting and fishing rights legislation currently under review in his state. It was approved by both Indiana houses this year and if lawmakers approve it again next year, there will be a ballot measure handed over to voters in 2016.“I don’t think we’re under so much of a direct attack now, but you’ve got to look 30, 40 years down the road, and a lot of the stuff our kids read in school is very anti-hunting," Steele told the AP.
One opponent of the legislation, Indiana Democrat Matt Pierce, said he can't imagine what group could convince state lawmakers to outlaw fishing and hunting.
“What you tend to hear from proponents is that they’ve heard of some nefarious conspiracy in which the Humane Society of the United States, in league with some multibillionaire, will wash so much money into the political system that it will convince members of the legislature to outlaw hunting and fishing,” Pierce said. “It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.
"There is really no serious possibility of Indiana ever banning hunting and fishing or putting significant restrictions on it."
While in recent years the Humane Society has focused on working to end several types of hunting practices, Nicole Paquette, the group's vice president of wildlife protection, said it is not trying to eliminate hunting. The group continues to work to ban bear baiting, using packs of dogs to pursue bears, cougars and other wildlife, and confining animals in enclosed areas for the purpose of hunting.
“We have responsible hunters on our side who agree that these practices should not be allowed,” Paquette said. “We are the Humane Society of the United States, so we do not support hunting. But as a practical matter, we don't work to stop hunting and fishing.”
Two years ago, the Humane Society led a California measure that bans the use of dogs for bear and bobcat hunting. Last year, it successfully lobbied for a California ban on lead ammunition. In November, voters in Maine will determine whether to prohibit bear hunting with bait, dogs or traps, legislation pushed by the Humane Society.
Some of the current hunting rights legislation is centered on the fear of the continued loss of hunting lands to urban sprawl. According to the U.S. Forest Service, about 34 million acres of open space – an area the size of Illinois – was lost to development in the U.S. from 1982-2001. It predicts another 26 million acres will be lost by 2030.
“There is increasing development around the state, and there has been some loss of open lands and wild areas," said James Seward, a New York state senator whose hunting and fishing rights measure has been approved by that state’s Senate but has not yet reached the Assembly. “As we see areas change, the connection between a good portion of our population and the traditional outdoor activities like hunting, trapping and fishing seems to be getting lost.”