I’m Bill Howell and I’m with the Northern Idaho Wolf Alliance or NIWA. Next month you will see on your Idaho election ballot a proposed amendment to our state constitution. It is called HJR-2. If you haven’t heard about HJR-2, don’t be surprised. Very few people have.
If you are puzzled as to why you haven’t heard about a proposed addition to a list of very specific rights and privileges that are guaranteed by our state constitution, well, you should be puzzled. I’m puzzled too. But I can’t answer that question. That’s a question you need to ask your local media, which is an integral component of our form of government. And I hope you will ask them. What I can do is tell you what HJR-2 is about and give you some information to help you make an informed decision, and some thoughts to consider, when you vote next month. An informed decision is also an integral component of our form of government.
Article 1 of our constitution identifies 22 specific rights that are guaranteed to all Idahoans. These constitutional rights include such important freedoms as: the inalienable rights of all citizens to be free and equal, the right of free speech, the right to assemble, to a trial by jury, to courts of justice, and to habeas corpus, the rights of suffrage, and of eminent domain. They also include guarantees of religious liberty and due process; and prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishment, and imprisonment for debt. These are big important freedoms and this list of 22 rights apply to, and are important to, every single one of the 1.5 million people currently living in Idaho. But in a larger sense, these are not just unique rights reserved only for Idahoans. They are universal civil rights that are appropriate for all human beings. The very purpose of Article 1 in our Constitution is to identify those specific universal civil rights that are guaranteed to each of us simply because we are human beings. The purpose of our constitutional rights is not to protect the livelihood or recreational interests of a small select group of people called “sportsmen”. But that’s exactly what HJR-2 does.
HJR-2 seeks to make hunting, fishing, and trapping a universal civil right in Idaho. According to reports on the Idaho Dept. of Fish & Game website, only 10 to 14 percent of Idahoans hunt. I don’t hunt. Personally, I think wild animals trying to survive in the natural world have a tough enough time without adding the threat of humans with high-powered scopes and rifles shooting at them from some hidden place. But I do respect that hunting is an ancient human experience which has significant value to some people, and so my own personal beliefs about hunting are irrelevant. My issue with HJR-2 isn’t about hunting or fishing. It’s about trapping. IDFG records indicate that the number of trapping permits issued in the entire state of Idaho last year totaled about 900. That works out to less than 0.1% of Idahoans. Yet, HJR-2 would enshrine into our constitution a civil ‘right’ for 0.1% of Idahoans to trap wildlife forever.
Based on my investigation of HJR-2, it appears that the hunting and fishing components may be just ‘red herrings’ that are being used to help ensure that HJR-2 passes. The reason I think this may be the case is because HJR-2 just doesn’t make sense. It smells fishy if you will (and please don’t pardon that pun because it wasn’t very good). I’m not a conspiracy theorist or a bleeding-heart tree-hugger. In the interests of full-disclosure, I do have a bias tho. I am anti-political manipulation by special interest groups, and that’s what HJR-2 appears to be. But maybe I’m just deluding myself. We all do that from time to time. And many of us a lot of the time. So I’d like you to be the judge. I’d like to walk you thru my investigation of HJR-2 and ask you to decide for yourself whether or not it should become a constitutionally protected civil right.
To begin with, Idahoans currently have the ability to hunt, fish, and trap. This is enshrined in the mission statement of the IDFG. So if HJR-2 is defeated, nothing will change. Idahoans will still have the ability to hunt, fish, and trap. And there is no organized effort being made, or even being suggested, to ban hunting, fishing, or trapping; so there is no potential threat to these activities that HJR-2 is needed to protect in the future. Well, since there is no current or potential problem, you might wonder why the Idaho Legislature would propose a constitutional amendment to create a civil right that protects an activity that is not being threatened. It sounds to me like HJR-2 is a solution in search of a problem. To try and understand why HJR-2 is appearing on our ballot, I looked into the legislative record. It didn’t help.
What I learned was that HJR-2 came out of the same committee that created SB1305, also known as the Live Bait Bill. SB1305 would have allowed (quote) “sportsmen” (unquote) to (quote) “adopt” (unquote) dogs and cats from animal shelters to be used as live bait for luring wildlife so it could be killed. Some of you might not have heard about this one because it was pulled from a final vote after the Legislature received strong outrage from the citizens of Idaho and after the Federal government warned Idaho that it could lead to the re-listing of wolves as an Endangered Species. As a result, SB1305 was tabled and HJR-2 was created.
HJR-2 is on the ballot because the Legislature is required by law to put such things as an amendment to our constitution on a ballot for a vote by the people. I would think that issues which add to our constitutional rights would be reserved for very important issues and would result in a lot of discussion by our elected representatives. That just makes sense right? But there was no discussion in the Legislature about HJR-2. In fact, the Legislature suspended the rules of the Constitution of the State of Idaho [Section 15, Article 3] that requires a bill to be read over several days so that it can be discussed and contemplated. Suspending these rules is actually very common for procedural issues but HJR-2 is a constitutional amendment! Now, I would think that a constitutional amendment is, by definition, important enough to warrant being read, but apparently HJR-2 is an exception. And HJR-2 is only one paragraph long! The reason that was cited for suspending the Constitutionally-mandated rules was that it was a (quote) “case of urgency” (unquote). Now, I would think that a case of urgency involving a constitutional amendment is all the more reason why it should be read and discussed over a period of days, but I guess that’s why I’m not a politician. In my mind, to propose an amendment, and then suspend the rules so it’s not discussed, or it’s one-paragraph length even read, when there isn’t any actual problem or potential threat of a problem, just makes no common sense. But I guess that’s another reason why I’m not a politician.
So, looking into the legislative record to understand why HJR-2 is on the ballot wasn’t very helpful. In fact, it left me feeling like the Legislature looked the other way while HJR-2 was slipped past them. It also left me with the feeling that the citizens of Idaho are being ‘played’. Well, then let’s try looking at the actual text of the amendment to see if that will help us understand. Although the amendment is only one paragraph, it seems to break into two halves.
The first half of HJR-2 reads as follows:
“Shall Article 1, of the Constitution of the State of Idaho be amended by the addition of a New Section 23, to provide that the rights to hunt, fish and trap, including by the use of traditional methods, are a valued part of the heritage of the State of Idaho and shall forever be preserved for the people and managed through the laws, rules and proclamations that preserve the future of hunting, fishing and trapping;to provide that public hunting, fishing and trapping of wildlife shall be a preferred means of managing wildlife; …”
That all sounds pretty straightforward on the surface. But when you think about it, it raises some serious concerns. For one, what is a traditional method? What exactly is an untraditional method? That’s pretty vague language for an amendment that seeks to become our 23rd inalienable civil right.
A more serious concern, however, is the phrase (quote) “shall forever be preserved” (unquote). If HJR-2 is approved, it could render mute the right of citizens, including our children and grandchildren, to request that our government’s policies on trapping be changed.
A 1978 national survey conducted for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by Yale University showed that 78% of respondents opposed the use of steel-jawed leghold traps. A 1996 poll by the Animal Welfare Institute had similar results with 74% of Americans opposed to leghold traps . I suspect that, if surveyed, Idahoans would respond similarly. No survey has been conducted to assess Idahoan’s attitudes about trapping, yet our Legislature, without debate or deliberation, is asking us to make trapping a guaranteed civil right that shall be forever preserved. Again, less than 0.1 percent of Idahoans trap, which means that 99.9-plus% of Idahoans would have no right to challenge an activity that affects the wildlife that is suppose to belong to all of us. HJR-2 is proposing to change our state constitution to benefit a small special interest. That’s setting a dangerous precedent.
The American Veterinarian Association, the American Animal Hospital Association, the World Veterinary Association, and the National Animal Control Association all agree that leghold traps are inhumane . According to the Born Free web site, 7 states have banned or severely restricted the use of leghold traps [California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington]; and 89 countries around the world have banned the leghold trap, recognizing that it is a barbarically cruel device and that wildlife management goals can be achieved without it . Over the years, citizen-initiatives to try and ban trapping have come and gone, but they keep coming back. There’s probably a reason why that is. Washington state finally banned leghold traps in 2000. I suspect that this is what’s behind the “case of urgency” that was cited for bypassing Idaho constitutional law which required that HJR-2 be read over several days.
Trapping is clearly a controversial issue, yet there has been no organized debates or discussions about trapping either in the public arena via the media or in our Legislature. I’m sorry to keep repeating myself but I can’t get over the fact that we’re talking about a new constitutional right involving a controversial subject, and HJR-2 wasn’t even allowed to be read in the Legislature in accordance with the law. It’s just incredible! Is this the way to go about creating a new universal civil right? No. Of course not. Is this the method that special interests have historically used to bypass and circumvent our democratic traditions in order to push thru legislation that doesn’t have public support? Yes, Of course it is.
If HJR-2 is approved by the voters, it could create significant legal ramifications. If, sometime in the future, a citizens initiative should try to reform trapping, such as to restrict trapping to only situations involving pest control, it would be ruled unconstitutional. HJR-2 would then become an obstacle that infringes on the very political freedoms we are guaranteed in Section 2 of Article 1 of our Constitution- that all political power is inherent in the people. Any attempt to reform HJR-2 would require that another new constitutional amendment first be approved that would allows HJR-2 to be modified. This is likely next to impossible. This is likely what the intention of HJR-2 is.
Other legal ramifications are that IDFG management of our wildlife resource could be challenged in court by parties who don’t agree with IDFG’s policy, regulations, or procedures; by contending that it infringes on their constitutional right. Judges would be put in the position of determining where appropriate regulation by the IDFG begins and a person’s constitutional right ends.
But I think the most alarming phrase in this half of HJR-2 is that trapping will become the (quote) “preferred means of managing wildlife” (unquote). By requiring that hunting, fishing, and trapping be the preferred means of managing wildlife, HJR-2 restricts and may even dictate the options that IDFG is allowed to use, even in the event that future best-management practices determine that alternative methods are more effective than trapping. HJR-2 could tie the hands of the very professionals that we have put in charge of managing our wildlife resources.
The second half of HJR-2 reads:
“… and to provide that the rights set forth do not create a right to trespass on private property, shall not affect rights to divert, appropriate and use water, or establish any minimum amount of water in any water body, shall not lead to a diminution of other private rights, and shall not prevent the suspension or revocation, pursuant to statute enacted by the Legislature, of an individual’s hunting, fishing or trapping license?”
Well, this language is even less than helpful. The 2nd half is disturbing because it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the 1st half. It contains just about as many words as the 1st half, but all of the words are about reassuring us that our existing constitutional rights won’t be impacted by HJR-2. The 1st amendment in Article 1 of our constitution specifically states that possessing and protecting property is an inalienable right, so why is it necessary to reassure us of this in this amendment? I think there’s something wrong with a proposed addition to our constitutionally-guaranteed civil rights when half of the text describing this new right is spent on discussing how it won’t take away any existing rights that we already have. But I guess that’s just another reason why I’m not a politician.
Sadly, I suspect that most voters won’t think this means there’s something fishy about HJR-2. I suspect that the first time most voters will even hear about HJR-2 is when they read it on their ballot just prior to voting. And I suspect that the initial reaction of most voters will be that this is a State’s Rights issue. And given the anti-federal government sentiment so common among many Idahoans, and their resistance to progressive change, I suspect that many voters, and perhaps most, will make their decision about HJR-2 based on this initial reaction.
I’ve read that 40,000 animals die in Idaho each year from traps. Many of them are what’s called “incidental catches” meaning they aren’t the animal the trapper is trying to catch. Some of these incidental catches are threatened or endangered species which has led to a practice called SSS, which stands for shoot, shovel, and shut-up. But wildlife aren’t the only animals that become “incidental catches”. People’s pets are caught too.
Current IDFG regulations require that a trap must be placed a minimum of 5 feet from the centerline of a trail. Animals use trails to get around easier, just like we do. I imagine this regulation was created as a reasonable public safety precaution because people use trails too. Hiking trails are typically 1 to 3 feet wide, so the placing of a trap just 4 feet off a trail is perfectly legal. When I would go hiking with my dog to explore the natural wonders that surround us here in Northern Idaho, she would invariably stray more than 4 feet from a trail cuz that’s where the best sniffing is. I guess I’m lucky that she never stepped into a trap. Other people’s pets haven’t been so lucky. Many pets are injured or killed every year by traps. Last August, NIWA joined with some other groups and held a rally in CDA to memorialize the wolves that were killed in Idaho last year. One of the people who showed up brought his dog Bella to the rally. Bella is a beautiful 3-legged husky who lost her leg to an unmarked trap.
Trappers are not currently required to put up any flags or warning signs to indicate that traps have been placed in the area. If HJR-2 is not approved by the voters, pressure can be put on IDFG to require reasonable protections for the public and our pets when hiking in our public lands, such as warning signs or prohibiting traps in the vicinity of trails used for hiking. However, if HJR-2 is approved by the voters, such efforts might automatically be rejected by IDFG based on the argument that it interferes with “traditional methods”. If HJR-2 is approved then, theoretically, a trapper could claim that “traditional methods” allow the trap to be placed directly in the trail because that’s the where the game walk and that’s the way it was traditionally done in the ‘good ol days’.
For all of the reasons I’ve discussed, I think HJR-2 is a flawed amendment that doesn’t rise to the level of thought and consideration that should be required of a law that seeks to become a universal civil right. I hope this talk helps you make an informed decision next month. I hope you will discuss HJR-2 with your friends and colleagues to help them make an informed decision. I hope you will contact the media and ask them to inform the public about HJR-2. And finally, for any one the reasons I’ve discussed, I hope you will vote NO on HJR-2.
In closing, if this issue is important to you and you’d like to help, the most important way you can is to get the word out. You can write letters to the editor of your local paper to help raise awareness, or ask your local media to report on HJR-2.
References & Web Information
1] Born Free Web Site: http://www.bancrueltraps.com/a_about.php