Tom Smart, KSL, File

Should Utahns have a constitutional right to hunt and fish?

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, KSL | Posted - Mar. 5, 2020 at 12:47 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — A lawmaker wants voters to preserve residents’ right to hunt and fish in Utah by amending the state constitution to include that provision.

Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise, is running HJR15, which received Senate committee approval Wednesday. It passed the House Feb. 28 on a 61-9 vote and now awaits action in the full Senate.

It would place the question on the general election ballot this fall.

Snider told members of the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee that the measure will ensure hunting and fishing remain the source of revenue for wildlife management in Utah and also as a way to manage populations of animals.

“Hunting and fishing is a primary tool that pays for conservation in this state,” he said. “The majority of states around us currently have that as a component of state constitutions.”

Those states include Wyoming, Colorado and Idaho, and Snider said California, too, has the individual right to fish in its state constitution.

The measure reinforces that hunting and fishing is the tool to control populations, Snider said, unlike Pennsylvania that is using paid sharp shooters to reduce numbers of deer infected with chronic wasting disease. The plan is opposed by hunters in that state.

Snider added that Vermont was the first state to incorporate the individual right to hunt and fish, doing so in 1776.

The constitutional amendment would not affect how the state wildlife agency issues licenses or any other management component of the agency. It does not trump private property rights, nor restrict the state wildlife agency from revoking licenses from those who break the law.

Kirk Robinson, executive director of Western Wildlife Conservancy, said the resolution is unnecessary.

“My personal feeling is that it is too trivial a matter to make a constitutional amendment over since nobody has ever talked about passing laws or a ballot initiative to do away with hunting and fishing,” Robinson said. “If it makes people feel better I guess it is OK, but I don’t see any point in it.”

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But Snider disagrees.

In House debate, Snider pointed to a constitutional measure passed 30 years ago at the time that was largely seen as unnecessary. That amendment requires a two-thirds majority vote on how wildlife is managed in Utah. Citing Colorado as an example, Snider discussed its ballot initiative on the reintroduction of wolves that is supported by majority populations at the expense of minority ranchers and other opponents.

“It is not unforeseeable and history bears this out, that 30 or 40 or 50 years from now those participating in these activities will be a significant minority, more than they already are,” he said, adding that it is not a foregone conclusion hunting and fishing would be eliminated from the public sphere at some point in the future.

Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, applauded Snider’s resolution during the House discussion.

“I want my grandkids to have that right,” he said. “It is a thrill to put them on the back of a four-wheeler and take them up on Boulder Mountain and watch them catch a brook trout out of lake with pristine water and beautiful surroundings and snow on top of the mountain. It is something these kids will never forget and it is something we should never forget.”

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