Hunting lobby attempts to silence Maine citizen petition process

  • Written by Val Philbrick
  • Published in Columns

 

The Portland Press Herald published an editorial on April 8, 2015, which stated that “for over 100 years, state law has allowed ordinary Mainers to put policy questions to voters at the ballot box through petition drives.  The citizen initiative process is a cornerstone of participatory democracy here.”

 

The Bangor Daily News published an editorial on April 9, 2015, which stated that “taking away the citizen initiative when it comes to hunting and fishing laws, or any other area of law, is wrong.”

 

LD5: A proposed amendment, LD5, to the Maine Constitution to Exclude Wildlife Issues from Citizen Initiatives would ensure that laws governing hunting and fishing are not subject to the citizen petition process.  This constitutional amendment banning hunting and fishing-related citizen initiatives has been proposed by Rep. Stephen Wood (R-Greene), and referred to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. If passed by two-thirds of the legislature, this measure would be placed on the ballot to be voted upon by Maine citizens in the next general election. Once again, as in 2015, Rep. Wood, now a third-term legislator in his final year in office, is seeking to exclude Maine citizens from voting on wildlife issues in this state.  Backers of this proposed amendment believe that issues involving wildlife are too complicated to be understood by the average voter.  This amendment would take away Mainers' longstanding constitutional right to vote on wildlife issues and would prevent wildlife issues from ever being placed on a statewide-ballot initiative again; thus silencing the voices of Maine citizens forever.

 

Animal rights organization and wildlife protection groups fear that Maine’s powerful hunting and trapping lobby is desperately trying to abolish the citizen initiative process.  The hunting lobby in Augusta claims that the 46.92% of the electorate who voted yes on a ballot initiative to ban the baiting, trapping, and hounding of bears in 2005, and the 46.59% of the electorate who voted yes on the same bear referendum in 2014, were manipulated by the National Humane Society. However, the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Sportmen’s Alliance, and other pro-hunting groups around the country regularly contribute money and influence to the legislative process in Maine and other states.  

 

The big national gun lobbies, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the lobbying arm of the NRA, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA), push the national agenda of well-funded outside lobbyists through the Maine legislature of which some legislators have vested interests in selling more guns, traps, and hunting licenses and have a potential conflict of interest, such as Steven Wood (R-Greene), a registered Maine guide, hunter, and owner of the J&S Guide Services in Sabattus, ME.  Forget about the issue, which in this case, is hunting. It could be anything: same-sex marriage, gambling, medical marijuana, the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, the minimum wage, and environmental issues, such as tar-sands oil and windmills, which could be exempted from citizen review. Passage of this amendment would set a dangerous precedent and effectively lessen the ability of citizens to fight for wildlife and other issues in this state.  Lawmakers should reject this amendment as an effort to weaken the public’s right to directly influence the political process.

 

The above proposal is being characterized by the hunting and trapping lobby as necessary and good to make the citizen initiative referendum in Maine more fair and equitable when many feel that in reality these proposals are designed to restrict the citizen initiative process and  preserve the status quo on wildlife issues.  The wildlife in this state belongs to all of the tax-paying citizens in this state, not just the consumptive hunters and trappers.  

 

LD11: Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine to Establish the Right to Hunt and Fish. Sponsored by Rep. Stephen Wood (R-Greene) and referred to the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. Once again, as in 2015, Mr. Wood is attempting to preemptively “protect hunters” and people who fish from “radical” animal rights groups who are supposedly coming after their guns and fishing rods.  

 

LR1656: LR (Legislative request number used to track a bill until it is printed as a Legislative Document and assigned an LD number). Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine to Protect the People's Right to Hunt, Fish and Trap. Sponsored again, as in 2015, by Rep. Karleton Ward (R-Dedham) and referred to the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. Cruelty issues aside in trapping since the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has no legal mandate to consider cruelty when managing wildlife in this state; a stance that many citizens take issue with and therein lies the possibility that the IFW might have to answer to the public with regards to cruelty.  There is also the issue of the state paying bounty hunters to trap coyotes when the science suggests that killing coyotes and leaving their offspring to die does nothing to decrease the number of coyotes as new coyotes move into unoccupied territories and the cycle starts all over again.  The few pups that survive reproduce at an earlier age and are never taught to hunt rodents properly by their parents. The young coyotes turn to easier prey, such as chickens, sheep, and other livestock on local farms.   This proposed amendment would protect the status quo as the Maine IFW has no legal mandate to consider science or cruelty in making their decisions preferring instead to cater to the special interest hunting and trapping groups.

These two proposed constitutional amendments to enshrine the right to hunt, fish, and trap in the Maine Constitution have been described as inconsequential and merely window dressing as hunting, fishing, and trapping rights, should remain a privilege, as in driver’s licenses, which can be revoked in the case of not following the rules, not a right.  Backers of these two proposed initiatives would like the public to believe that the right to hunt, trap, and fish with a license is under attack; but to most people, these two proposed amendments are grandstanding and sound like a solution in search of a problem.

 

According to WildWatch Maine, “One proposed bill (L.R. 1656) suggests an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine to Guarantee Citizens the Right to Hunt, Fish and Trap. Are Mainers' rights to hunt, fish and trap in peril? NO! The National Rifle Association provides the impetus for this proposal. The language in the proposed bill is the same its supporters have proposed/are proposing in states across the country. The NRA cultivates and inflames its supporters by concocting imaginary threats and by pursuing rights that are already codified in law.”

 

Val Philbrick is the host of a radio program, Into the Wilderness, Community Public Radio at the University of Southern Maine on WMPG 90.9 FM and streaming live at wmpg.org on Tuesday nights from 8:00 to 8:30 p.m.

Last modified onMonday, 13 February 2017 15:25