When Kentucky’s voters head to the polls on November 6, most will have a wide array of local, state and federal races to consider, which is to be expected in a presidential election year. There will be something else for them to decide as well, however: a constitutional amendment to further strengthen hunting and fishing rights.
Many may have forgotten that this was to be on the ballot, which is understandable since a year and a half have passed since I sponsored this legislation and the House and Senate agreed to put this proposal before the voters. In Kentucky, amendments can only be voted on in even-numbered years.
Another reason there has been relatively little public debate is because, if other states are a guide, this amendment should pass with overwhelming support. In Tennessee, for example, 90 percent of voters gave their approval in 2010, while in South Carolina and Arkansas, similar votes topped 80 percent that year.
Overall, there are now 13 states with this type of amendment in their constitutions. Vermont’s was included back in 1777, but most of the rest have been added since 1996. This year, voters in Idaho, Nebraska and Wyoming will also have a chance to add their states to this list.
It is important to note that this amendment will have no effect on normal hunting laws, such as length of seasons and licensing requirements. Rather, it will add another layer of legal protection so that these rights are applied uniformly across the state. Not surprisingly, hunting and fishing organizations are strong supporters, as is the National Rifle Association.
In Kentucky, these outdoor sports and other wildlife-related activities play a major role in our economy. The total impact is estimated at $3 billion a year, according to the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, and they support 34,000 jobs. They also provide more than $200 million in revenue for state and local governments.
The numbers behind these numbers are also significant. The Department sells about one million hunting and fishing licenses each year, while its information center fields about 100,000 calls annually; it also certifies 10,000 people each year in hunter education programs.
Out in the field, meanwhile, the number of deer harvested has exceeded 100,000 every year since 2000, and there are tens of thousands of wild turkeys taken as well during their seasons.
Archery programs in schools are helping to foster interest among adolescents. There are now 2,900 students across the state taking part, and in May, Louisville hosted the National Archery in the Schools competition.
In addition to their financial contributions, those who hunt and fish play a crucial role in preserving hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable acres that our wildlife depend on. This year, in fact, marks the 75th anniversary of the federal legislation that has helped these conservation efforts thrive. Here in Kentucky, money from the Pittman-Robertson Act has gone to such things as re-stocking an elk population that had dwindled away. Now, 15 years after this began, we have the largest herd in the eastern United States.
With less than five weeks until the election, time is drawing short to get what we need as voters to make informed choices. That is especially true for constitutional amendments that are much more uncommon and not always guaranteed to pass. Since 1891, when our current constitution was adopted, only 40 of the 78 amendments put before voters have been accepted.
So that you have enough time to consider this newest proposed addition, here is the text of the amendment you will see – and hopefully vote for – on Nov. 6th:
“The citizens of Kentucky have the personal right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, using traditional methods, subject only to statutes enacted by the Legislature, and to administrative regulations adopted by the designated state agency to promote wildlife conservation and management and to preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section shall not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights, or the regulation of commercial activities.”