A "Right" to Hunt and Fish

Why this effort is one of the most important wildlife and conservation issues of our time.
Hunting and fishing have long been a part of Tennessee’s history, lore and culture. Who hasn’t heard stories of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett and their exploits across our state? The images are so strong that even to this day they persist with a public and visible force. Take for example the pioneer dressed college student complete with muzzleloader and coonskin cap roaming the sidelines of Tennessee football games. Or consider the many a political gatherings throughout the spring named "coon supper" or "bird supper" referencing the traditions of hunting raccoons and quail respectively. There are even two hunts given in the name of the highest elected official in the state - the Governor's Dove Hunt and Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt. And how many small towns still hold "turkey shoots" as local fundraisers.
Thus, for many, the thought of Tennessee without the pursuits of chasing game or catching fish is foreign, even if they themselves are not active participants in the pursuits.
However, many are concerned about a future which may someday not allow for hunting and fishing. They point to successful efforts in Europe and Great Britain which have curtailed hunting traditions in the past 10 to 20 years. They despair over the limiting of hunting seasons in California for certain game species. The message they bring to the table is this, "Do not wait until you need a right to hunt and fish in your state. If you wait until you need it, you will already be too late."  
In many of these examples, the debates over hunting or fishing have been as much about the differences between rural and urban culture and values as they have been about hunting and fishing. Simply put, to people close to the land, hunting and fishing are largely an accepted part of live. However, to those with little to the connection to the land, or nature and its realities, these activities are not well understood. It is largely this lack of understanding that creates the fertile ground for efforts to stop hunting and fishing.

What is the Why?
For many, the most visible threat to hunting and fishing are the images of animal rights activists campaigning to stop hunting and fishing. Creating a right to hunt and fish is an obvious solution to address these challenges.
For others (from both people whom do and do not hunt, fish or trap) the question of "why does Tennessee need a constitutional amendment which provides for a right to hunt and fish?" is often the first words they have spoken on this topic. This question is asked from two distinct perspectives; with the first being, "don’t we already have a right to hunt and fish?" (hunter/fisher perspective). The second being "Is it really necessary?" (typically a non-hunter/fisher perspective).

Why Does Tennessee Need a Right to Hunt and Fish in its Constitution?
Currently, Tennesseans do not hold a right to hunt and fish, although the average hunter or fishermen feels they do. In Tennessee, hunting and fishing are a privilege, not a right. This privilege is granted by the state through its authority as provided in Article 11, Section 13 of the Tennessee Constitution. Given this reality, the most obvious need for such an amendment is quite simple, it helps Tennesseans preserve an important part of our history and a current set of recreation and wildlife management tools and places the interest of citizens equal with that of the state. If laws can be created to allow for hunting and fishing, then logic would dictate that laws could be changed to prohibit hunting and fishing, leading to the conclusion that having a right to hunt and fish in the state constitution provides a stronger protection as compared to a simple law. For example, if ever there was a successful challenge to a hunting or fishing season, manner or means, then the affected constituency (namely sportsmen and women of Tennessee) currently do not have the right to appeal such a case to the Tennessee State Supreme Court. Passage of this right will at the very least allow for such an appeal.
However, the importance of preserving the traditions of hunting, fishing and trapping go far beyond the effort to simply protect a particular recreational pursuit. In Tennessee and across the United States of America, sportsmen and women are still by far the largest financial contributors to the conservation of fish and wildlife and their habits. Through license sales, federal excise taxes, sales taxes and other payments, sportsmen and women are the financial fuel that feeds "on the ground" fish and wildlife work.
The system of fish and wildlife management developed in North America is considered to be the single most effective model in the world. This "North American Model" has produced tremendous results in recovering both game and non-game species of wildlife. However, one of the most significant aspects of this model has been that efforts to manage fish and wildlife, while being paid for by sportsmen and women, have dramatically and positively impacted those fish and wildlife which are not hunted or fished. Thus, to weaken, challenge or attempt to halt fishing and hunting is to promote a fundamental attack on the North American Model of wildlife management and by association the myriad of benefits it has and continues to provide both game and nongame species of fish and wildlife.

Stated in the affirmative, to support the protection of hunting and fishing through a right to hunt and fish is also supporting the system that helps all fish and wildlife.

What is the task that lies before us?
Amending the constitution of Tennessee is not a simple task. First, a joint resolution containing the amendment language must pass both chamber of the general assembly during one session (a two-year period) by a simple majority. Following the passage, and during the next immediate session, the resolution must pass the general assembly by 2/3rds majority vote. Then the language is advertised and subsequently placed on the November ballot as a referendum vote in the year in which a gubernatorial election is taking place. In the general election, the amendment referendum must then receive at least 50% plus 1 vote of the total number of voters voting in the gubernatorial election to become ratified.
In Tennessee, we are preparing for the 2/3rds majority vote, which will quickly be followed, by the amendment language referendum vote in November of 2010. We expect final passage of the general assembly in January with no difficulty. But then the real work begins. In 2010, we will need your help in preparing the public to understand the importance of this amendment and the upcoming November vote.

If you are interested in helping in the campaign or can support it financially, please do not hesitate to contact Mike Butler at 615-353-1133 ex 1 or e-mail directly at mabutler@tnwf.org.