Ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Right to Vote, the Right to Hunt

Moderator Bob Schieffer closed out the third and final presidential debate by saying this: “In the words of my mom ‘Go vote. It makes you feel big and strong.’” That is wise counsel given what appears to be the most contentious campaign season in American history. And we’re not just talking presidential race politics either. Many individual campaigns and ballot issues across the country are fiercely competitive, but the great thing about America is each one of us has the right, even the responsibility, to vote in leaders and approve or reject initiatives by the common consent of the people.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation does not endorse candidates in specific races. RMEF does, however, encourage all sportsmen and women to educate themselves on the candidates and issues in order to make informed decisions at the polls. As an organization, RMEF supports efforts that further our mission to enhance the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

With that said, voters in Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska and Wyoming go to the polls in November to decide whether to approve constitutional amendments guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish. Thirteen states already have this type of amendment in their constitutions. They are Alabama (1996), Arkansas (2010), Georgia (2006), Louisiana (2004), Minnesota (1998), Montana (2004), North Dakota (2000), Oklahoma (2008), South Carolina (2010), Tennessee (2010), Vermont (1777), Virginia (2000), and Wisconsin (2003). Alaska’s constitution already contains this language: “Wherever occurring in their natural state, fish, wildlife, and waters are reserved to the people for common use.” Mississippi referred a similar amendment to the 2014 ballot.

“Public hunting, fishing and trapping are our primary tools for managing wildlife. Without these tools, Idaho Fish and Game would have to rely more on government actions to manage wildlife populations and conflicts, at greater expense and risk,” the Idaho Fish and Game Commission recently stated. “The abundant and diverse wildlife we enjoy in Idaho today exists because of the conservation ethic of hunters, anglers and trappers who pay for science-based, professional wildlife management when they buy licenses, tags and sporting equipment.”

Why is this even an issue? Historical estimates indicate urban sprawl overtakes approximately 5,000 acres of habitat every day. There are also more restrictions on hunting and locations to hunt. And animal rights groups use more and more pressure to dictate legislation and reduce opportunities for Americans to hunt.

“In many states, well-funded extremist groups have actively targeted traditional hunting and fishing activities for elimination, and with some success. It would be a devastating blow to our economy and our quality of life if these groups were successful in outlawing such activities in Nebraska, especially in rural areas of our state,” said Nebraska Senator Pete Pirsch. “The idea behind my measure is to preserve and protect the freedoms that we enjoy now with respect to hunting and fishing for future generations of Nebraskans.”

Hunter in Tanzania (photo: Nigell Pavitt/Corbis)

Hunting is nothing new to humans. In fact, a recent study shows our ancestors used complex hunting techniques to harvest large animals at least two million years ago. That is 1.6 million years earlier than previously thought. Another recent study, the 2011 National Survey of Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, indicates 13.7 million people, or 6 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older, went hunting last year. That marks a 9 percent increase over 2006, reversing a previous downward trend.

It is also important to note that ‘Hunting is Conservation.’ In other words, hunters and hunting provide the funding for wildlife and conservation efforts across the nation. The Pittman-Robertson Act, a self-imposed tax on hunters, places an 11 percent tax on guns, ammunitions, bows and arrows. Since its inception 75 years ago, that tax generated more than $2 billion for wildlife conservation. Hunters also pay $725 million a year in licenses and fees. Through donations to groups like RMEF, hunters raise an additional $300 million annually for conservation efforts. If you add it all up, hunters pay more than $1 billion a year for conservation programs. No one gives more! Hunters also fund the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service, support 600,000 jobs nationwide, and generate $25 billion a year in retail spending.

As a species, humans hunt. We always have and we always will. And that is something all hunters need to remember as we go to the polls.

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