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While hunting and fishing are still popular traditions in Minnesota, a recent poll showed a shrinking percentage of state residents who actually take to the field. On November 3, Minnesotans will vote on a constitutional amendment which would "forever preserve" hunting, fishing, and trapping.
PROPONENTS OF FISHING, HUNTING, AND TRAPPING have worried for years about the influence of animal-rights groups. The organizations have proved powerful in the western states, successfully pushing for restrictions in bear and cougar hunting, and some types of trapping. So in 1994, Minnesota U.S. representative Collin Peterson and state senator Bob Lessard held several meetings to plan for the anticipated animal-rights onslaught. From those meetings came the idea for a state constitutional amendment to preserve hunting, fishing, and trapping forever. Jim Klatt is head of the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance.
Klatt: We just wanted to make it harder for them to do that in this state in the future. I mean, the threat's not here right now, granted. But it could be here ten years from now, or 15 years from now, or it could be here tomorrow. And the constitutional amendment is the highest legal barrier we could erect to this.Amendment Two on state ballots will ask this question: "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to affirm that hunting and fishing and the taking of game and fish are a valued part of our heritage, that shall be forever preserved for the people, and shall be managed by law and regulation for the public good?" At first, it looked like a slam-dunk - there are more than a million anglers in Minnesota; 450,000 deer hunters. Many millions are spent annually in the pursuit of game. The state house and senate voted almost unanimously to put the question on the ballot. It got immediate endorsements from gubernatorial candidates Coleman, Humphrey, and Ventura. So it was surprising when a recent poll found Minnesotans split on the issue. Howard Goldman, who is leading a campaign to defeat Amendment Two, says that's because no one's trying to ban hunting and fishing right now - why go so far to protect it?
Goldman: There is no need for this particular amendment. Pure and simple.Besides directing the "No on Two" campaign, Goldman is head of the group Friends of Animals and Their Environment, or FATE, the 500-member organization which has lobbied in the past to ban hunting deer with bow and arrow. Goldman argues it's frivolous to clutter the state constitution with something he says is as inconsequential as a sporting activity. He also says the amendment is unclear, that hunters might use it as legal cover to shoot anything that moves.
Goldman: To take wolves, for example. Even to trespass! If land is posted and there's a constitutional right to hunt, where will the courts come down on that? What about treaty rights? Where Native Americans exercise certain controls, will those be jeopardized? Nobody knows.Goldman also fears the amendment would give a permanent pass to the instrument most despised by animal-rights groups: the leg-hold trap.
Goldman: This trap causes terrible suffering. Many states have restricted its use. Values are changing in our society, and we think if this amendment is passed, it forecloses any future discussion on these issues - leg-hold traps, bow hunting - all these issues are taken off the table if the amendment is passed.The Outdoor Heritage Alliance's Jim Klatt says Goldman's concentration on wolves and leg-old traps is disingenuous, that the amendment clearly allows the State Legislature to maintain control over all game-taking methods and seasons, just as they do now. As for cluttering the constitution ...
Klatt: State constitutions are designed for a majority to protect what they perceive as their majority opinion on into the future. Our state constitution is set up to do that. Our constitution has 112 amendments, and some of them are pretty weird. It's not like it's a pristine ten-amendment thing.At Eckelman's Gun Shop and Rifle Range, near Brainerd, a teenage boy and his father sight in a deer rifle, the kid holding steady at the shooting bench despite enormous recoil. Watching is Steve Torracava, himself fresh off eighty rounds of target practice. He's rubbing his shoulder.
Torracava: It's a Winchester 300 Magnum. Develops an amazing amount of energy.Torracava's voting Yes on Amendment Two.
Torracava:I feel it's part of who we are and what we are. I was born to be a hunter. Our bodies are the bodies of a predator, our systems are a predator's. I feel it's an inalienable right that we have to preserve. Range owner Mark Eckelman has been talking up the amendment with his customers. He says while there's no immediate threat to the activities that support his business, hunters and trappers in the western states were complacent and have paid for it in new restrictions.
Eckelman: There's never gonna be a group that tries to ban everything all at once. They'll start with trapping. Years ago it was bow hunting. They'll start small and keep chipping away. It comes down to this: they don't like it, so no one else should do it.Meantime, there's been opposition to Amendment Two from surprising quarters. An editorial in the Brainerd Daily Dispatch, in the heart of lake country, says the only real protection for outdoor sports lies in teaching them to the next generation. And a column in the Outdoor News, one of the most fervent sporting publications in Minnesota, recently characterized the Amendment as a political bandwagon, vaguely worded, against a threat that may not exist.