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Legislation to enshrine the right to hunt and fish into the state Constitution was blocked Tuesday, Feb. 16, by the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
Both Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, the sponsor of House Joint Resolution 5, and Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, sponsor of HJR 8, said their proposed constitutional amendments wouldn’t have any real impact and were not intended to make any changes.
“It’s just saying we have a right to hunt, but we just have to do it in accordance with the rules,” Cook said.
The two proposals had different language, raising different concerns.
HJR 5 stated, “The people of the state have a right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife in accordance with laws and rules established to manage wildlife. That right shall not be construed to impair laws established to prohibit trespass or to protect property rights.”
HJR 8 stated, “The individual right of the people to hunt and fish is a valued part of the state’s heritage and shall be preserved for the public good.” It also stated that “traditional” methods of hunting and fishing would be the “preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”
Cook said that he actually liked Baldonado’s proposal better.
“I introduced mine because my neighbor down the street is a guide, and he knew that they had done this in Utah and other states. He asked me to carry it, so I did,” Cook said. “Apparently it’s a lot more controversial than I was aware of.”
There were no supporters of the proposals during the public comment section of the meeting, but there were several opponents who worried that they would have the unintended consequence of restricting public access.
Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, said traditional hunting methods include things like baiting, using dogs and diverting streams to strand fish. And, she said the amendment could tie the hands of wildlife managers.
“My concern is that by elevating hunting and fishing as the preferred method to manage wildlife, that could prohibit alternative wildlife methods like relocation,” Ferrary said. She also alleged that the proposals came from national models provided by the National Rifle Association.
Much of the debate about HJR 5 centered on the language about property rights. Participants in ongoing court cases about access to the state’s rivers said the amendment would result in less public access.
Baldonado said that wasn’t his intention. “I don’t read a conflict there, but, obviously, other people do,” he said.
As to the larger question of whether hunting and fishing should be a constitutional right, opponents argued that both activities were privileges, and should not be thought of in the same way as free speech or the right to a court trial.
“As a longtime outdoorsman, I believe hunting and fishing is not a right, but a sacred privilege that must be subject to rules and regulations,” said Edward Olona of Springer, a past president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.
Many of those who voted against the proposals expressed their support for hunters and anglers.
“We hold dear the ability to hunt,” said Rep. Melanie Stansbury, D-Albuquerque. “It’s important to emphasize there is language in both bills that appears to be an end run around the right to have access to rivers and streams.”
Legislation has been introduced in the Senate that would provide a constitutional right to clean air, water and land. Senate Joint Resolution 3 has passed through the Rules Committee in the form of a committee substitute, and is now awaiting a hearing in the Judiciary Committee.
Walter Rubel can be reached at email@example.com.