posted on October 18, 2004 00:00
Amendment would recognize hunting, fishing
By JENNIFER McKEE
Gazette State Bureau
HELENA - Hunting and fishing have been described as the unofficial state religion of Montana. This November, voters will get a chance to change the state constitution to formally recognize their opportunity to hunt and fish.
Constitutional Amendment 41 would add to the Montana Constitution this provision: "The opportunity to harvest wild fish and wild game animals is a heritage that shall forever be preserved to the individual citizens of the state and does not create a right to trespass on private property or diminution of other private rights."
The proposal, which originated as a bill in the 2003 Legislature, is hailed by supporters as a way of preserving hunting and fishing in the state against animal-rights activists who may wish to ban it. Opponents say the amendment is a feel-good measure that gives Montanans no legal ammunition against those opposed to hunting.
Rep. Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman, a hunter and chief sponsor of the bill that gave birth to C-41, said anti-hunting forces are making headway shutting down hunting and fishing opportunities in other states.
"If we wait until it's already direct attack here in Montana, by then it will be too late," he said.
C-41 would give Montanans constitutional protection against such attacks, he said. It was written to allow Fish, Wildlife and Parks to continue science-based management of the state's fish and game animals.
The amendment states that the opportunity to hunt and fish does not give people the right to trespass on private property.
Balyeat said it also will not erode Montana's stream access law, which gives anglers the right to access all state waters within the high water mark.
"Courts in Montana have already said that using the stream-access law is not trespassing," he said.
Ron Aasheim of FWP said department lawyers had reviewed the proposed amendment and concluded that it leaves room for the agency to set hunting and fishing regulations.
The Montana Wildlife Federation, an organization of hunters and anglers, also supports the idea, said Larry Copenhaver, the agency's conservation director.
Please see C-41, 7B
But Sen. John Cobb, R-Augusta, the only senator to vote against the bill, said C-41 gives no real protection to hunters and anglers. Anti-hunting interests, should they ever become the majority in Montana, still could pass bills severely limiting Montanans' ability to hunt and fish.
"It gives you a false sense of security," he said. "It's an empty amendment."
The real threat to hunting and fishing is the shrinking number of people who partake in the activities, he said. If people really value the hunting and fishing heritage, they will spread the word about its importance and not put their hopes in an amendment that accomplishes nothing.
C-41 does not give Montanans the right to hunt and fish, Cobb said, just the opportunity. That opportunity is now - and would be after passage of C-41 - at the direction of government.
"The majority, when they get into power and decide they don't want hunting, can legislate it to death," Cobb said. "The bottom line is, this doesn't protect you from government interference."
C-41 has proven popular. In the Legislature, overwhelming majorities voted to pass the bill. A Gazette State Poll conducted last month showed that 53 percent of likely Montana voters approved of the idea, compared with 14 percent against it and 33 percent undecided.
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