Tuesday, October 26, 2010
- by Rep. Eric Watson
In the last few days, I have received numerous phone calls concerning the Hunting and Fishing Constitutional Amendment that is currently on the election ballot. The amendment would provide a safeguard by allowing hunters and fishermen the means to appeal any challenge to the right to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Without constitutional protection, legislators could pass a ban motivated by personal anti-hunting sentiment or pressured by anti-hunting constituents. Hunting and fishing have long been a part of Tennessee's history, lore and culture. This is our chance to protect our outdoor traditions in perpetuity.
Hunting and fishing are a state-granted "privilege," not a right as generally assumed.
Today, hunting and fishing could be banned by a vote in the General Assembly or by a misguided lawsuit. This amendment to the state constitution will provide a strong clarification of an individual's right to hunt and fish in Tennessee, should these traditions be challenged in a court of law. The added level of protection would be significant, as it does not currently exist.
Tennessee's landscape is changing. Political winds are constantly shifting. We have an opportunity to secure this right before it's too late. As Tennessee's population grows and the state becomes more urban and suburban, we as a people are losing our connection to the land. The result is more elected officials who represent larger populations who are more disconnected with the land and our agrarian roots as a society. We may not always enjoy the fundamental support of hunting and fishing that we have today.
As our open space dwindles, wildlife populations become more concentrated. The result is negative consequences for both humans and wildlife. We will continue to see more deer-car collisions, more disease from overcrowding, more damage to residential landscaping, etc. More than 5,800 vehicle accidents involving deer were reported in 2009 in Tennessee, many of which resulted in critical injuries or fatalities.
Hunters are the original conservationists - we know there's nothing humane about animals dying from disease and starvation. As deer and other wildlife are displaced by development, they have no choice but to feed on our rose bushes and our vegetable gardens.
Hunters and fishermen are the greatest sources of conservation funding in America. Much of the publicly funded open land we enjoy - for hiking, biking, bird watching, camping and other activities - wouldn't exist without regulated hunting and fishing. The dollars provided by hunting and fishing license fees and federal excise taxes on related equipment fund wildlife areas almost exclusively.
Your right as a Tennessean will help protect a system of wildlife management that benefits us all.
By supporting this ballot measure, the citizens of Tennessee will protect a system of wildlife management that benefits ALL fish and wildlife -species that are hunted and fished, and the many more species which are not.
Ask most any hunter, and they'll tell you they don't care to harvest any animal that they aren't going to eat. It's our code of ethics. Hunters and fishermen remind us that humans are an important part of the ecological balance. If hunting and fishing disappear, the food chain is drastically altered.
We have a responsibility as humans to take care of our wildlife - to be good stewards of the earth's resources. Biologists will tell you that hunting and fishing are the only viable means by which to ensure that our wildlife populations are managed in a way that keeps them healthy and stable.
The right to hunt and fish has been a central element of human societies for thousands of years.
All the way back to ancient Rome, democratic societies have recognized the individual right to hunt and fish. In England, the banning of hunting and fishing for all but the ruling class was one reason for the colonists' defection to America. In fact, the right to hunt and fish was considered for inclusion in the U.S. Constitution, but was thought to be such a basic right in the free New World that it was unnecessary to codify.
Fourteen states have the right dictated in their constitutions. Vermont has included a right to hunt and fish in their constitution since it was first drafted in 1777. California passed the amendment in 1910. Seven other states have passed constitutional amendments since 2000, and four states have the measure on the ballot in 2010.
Hunting and fishing are vital parts of our Tennessee heritage. From the pioneers' subsistence hunting to a grandfather helping his granddaughter catch her first fish, these traditions have existed for hundreds of years.
Who hasn't heard of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, and their exploits through the lands of Tennessee? Our state university's mascot is a longhunter with a coonskin cap and a muzzleloader, roaming the sidelines at football games. This is our heritage.
Hunting and fishing are a multi-billion dollar industry in Tennessee. When you think about all of the sporting goods stores, bait shops, boat dealers and equipment manufacturers across our great state, you realize that hunting and fishing are big business!
The economic impact of hunting and fishing in Tennessee is estimated to be more than $2.5 billion annually, and that doesn't count the motel rooms, meals in restaurants, gas purchases and entertainment dollars that hunters and fishermen - from Tennessee and across America - spend in our communities every day.
Hunting and fishing provide thousands of jobs and economic benefits that help keep our taxes low and our quality of life high. Hunting and fishing are good for the mind, body and soul. Most all of us have fond memories of fishing with our families as children, of learning to shoot a rifle or a bow, or of our first time afield.
In fact, hunting and fishing help promote healthy living. Wild fish and game are among the healthiest foods available, and there's no more fundamental right than the ability to feed ourselves.
Too many kids are growing up with a sedentary lifestyle and junk food. Outdoor activities promote exercise, an understanding of science and ecology, and love and respect for nature.
If we wait, we will be too late. All over America, people are working to ban hunting and fishing. As Tennessee citizens, if we wait until we need a right to hunt and fish, we will be too late.
Anti-hunting and fishing activists have had success in other states, and they are well funded. They accomplish their objectives legislatively and through the courts. The constitutional amendment will offer much greater protection from frivolous lawsuits, activist judges and misguided legislation.
These kinds of things have happened and will continue to happen in Tennessee. Now is the time to preserve our wildlife and protect our traditions forever - So vote Yes to protect our right to Hunt and fish.
Rep. Eric Watson