Life, liberty and the pursuit of game
BY JANET PEARSON Associate Editor
Sunday, October 05, 2008
10/05/08 at 5:02 AM
Hunting protection pondered
Back in the 1680s, King Charles II and William Penn could not have known they were importing to the New World an already-old debate when they included in the Charter for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania specific protections for the rights of ordinary people to hunt and fish on lands not set aside for livestock.
A century and a half later, a New Jersey landowner and an oysterman "found themselves in front of the Supreme Court, arguing over whether (the landowner) owned the oysters stuck in the mud on his property," Christina Larson recounted in the January/February 2006 edition of Washington Monthly.
"The Court ruled that he did not, and it granted sovereignty of the waterways, the soil, and the critters in them to the people of each state."
Later court rulings, Larson explained, "refined the unique American system that exists today: Wildlife is to be held in trust by the state (managed by state wildlife agencies) for the benefit of the public, who collectively own it."
On Nov. 4, Oklahomans will have their chance to decide whether to enshrine hunting, trapping and fishing privileges in the state Constitution.
If approved, the measure would give all Oklahomans "the right to hunt, trap, fish and take game and fish." The amendment would provide for "reasonable regulation," and designates the Wildlife Conservation Commission to "approve methods and procedures for hunting, trapping, fishing and taking of game and fish."
State Question No. 742 would allow for "taking game and fish by traditional means" and makes hunting, fishing and trapping "the preferred means to manage certain game and fish."
Many might reasonably wonder why such a measure would be deemed necessary or desirable, given that such activities are well-established Oklahoma traditions already governed by state laws and regulations.
Even a principal sponsor of the measure, Senate Co-President Pro Tem Glen Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, conceded the measure probably is not necessary. "I think, given the environment and climate in Oklahoma today, probably not," he told the Associated Press. "But we have seen in other areas of the country, that issues come up about whether fish feel pain when they are caught and issues about hunting restrictions. I just wanted to end the argument before it got started in Oklahoma."
Why, Sen. Coffee, that sounds a bit un-American. Isn't robust debate and compromise the way we Americans end arguments?
And, as Coffee's comments suggest, there are mechanisms in place that seem to adequately address wildlife and game issues. Why fix what isn't broken?
Another sponsor of the measure seems more concerned. Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, believes it would be "a mistake to turn a blind eye to the actions of liberal activist groups that are targeting outdoor gaming activities around the nation."
Terrill and others with such views no doubt are still smarting from the landslide vote a few years ago banning cockfighting in Oklahoma — a years-long, hard-fought, democratic effort which, by the way, did not pave the way for a torrent of similar measures, as opponents predicted. In fact, there's still no reason to believe legitimate, age-old traditions such as hunting and fishing face any real or significant threats.
In lobbying for the amendment last March, Terrill declared: "This bill gives our citizens the chance to step up and protect their rights from being stolen by people who have no respect for our traditions and values."
But wait: Don't Oklahomans who aren't hunters and fishermen have any rights regarding wildlife? If, as Christina Larson documented in Washington Monthly, American jurisprudence has decreed that America's wildlife belongs not to private interests but to the public, then don't all of us have a say in the governance and regulation of wildlife? Would the proposed constitutional amendment impinge on the rights of those who view wildlife as something other than a trophy or a meal? Wouldn't it lead to one constitutional challenge after another over hunting methods, wildlife management choices and the like?
That's the view, not surprisingly, of groups such as the Humane Society of the United States, which calls the measure "a threat to wildlife and undemocratic."
The HSUS is asking opponents of the measure to help spread the word that SQ 742 could limit future citizen initiatives to protect wildlife, and could "derail potentially useful and groundbreaking (wildlife) management tools before they even get placed on the table."
All legitimate points. But a couple of the best arguments against SQ 742 are these: In these difficult times of complex challenges, why are voters being asked to confer constitutional protection on a recreational activity? Isn't a state constitution for protecting fundamental democratic principles?
Janet Pearson, 581-8328
Is fishing at the McGee Creek Lake really in jeopardy? Tulsa World file
State Question No. 742 would allow for "taking game and fish by traditional means" and makes hunting, fishing and trapping "the preferred means to manage certain game and fish." Tulsa World file