By Don Molde
Senate Joint Resolution 11 (SJR11) sits before the Nevada Legislature, awaiting its second consecutive vote of approval. Should that occur, voters in the general election in 2018 will be asked to amend the Nevada Constitution to declare that hunting, fishing and trapping belong in the document as constitutional ‘rights’.
Hunting, fishing and trapping already exist in Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) as legal means of killing wildlife. Should SJR 11 be adopted by voters in 2018, the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) would still exist. Sportsmen would still be required to buy licenses and tags, follow laws, rules and regulations, and face consequences for violations.
Proponents of SJR 11 have confused a constitutional ‘right’ with a privilege. Hunting, fishing and trapping are not constitutional ‘rights’. They are privileges, much like driving a car, which also requires a license and compliance with a body of established law.
Why then, has SJR 11 surfaced in Nevada, mimicking, as it does, similar efforts that have occurred or are ongoing in several other states?
Decades ago, when it became clear that wildlife management was needed in this country, state legislators decided to establish a system based on user fees instead of general fund appropriation. (Wildlife management, with few exceptions, is traditionally a state responsibility.) Available funding depended on the number of users and fees involved.
The user-fee based system no longer works very well, mainly because the number of sportsmen is in decline. Revenue for land and resource management is shrinking. Wildlife management agencies in the West are looking for other stable, dependable funding sources.
For example, about 50,000 resident hunting licenses were sold by NDOW last year. At an average fee of $40 per license, revenue from hunting licenses produced approximately $2 million. NDOW’s annual budget is approximately $40 million. Hunting license sales therefore amount to about 5 percent of NDOW’s annual budget. But NDOW has previously estimated that all revenue from sportsmen (licenses, tags, administrative costs, etc.) is about 30 percent of NDOW’s annual budget.
Federal excise taxes (from firearms, ammunition, archery, fishing sales) are distributed to state wildlife management agencies based upon a formula which partly depends on license sales. While sportsmen have long claimed that they are the major source of those monies, close analysis suggests that hunting/fishing accounts for about 15 percent of federal excise taxes. The remainder comes from non-consumptive sources.
User-fee based management systems can have problems beyond shrinking revenue. Those who “pay” want the “say”. Entitlement and quasi-ownership notions are clearly present in wildlife management and have made their way into decision-making circles.
NRS specify the qualifications of the nine wildlife commissioners appointed by the governor: five sportsmen, one rancher, one farmer, a member of the public, and a “conservationist” sit on the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners.
On contentious issues, e.g. predator killing, coyote killing contests, trapping, black bear hunting, using hounds to pursue bears and mountain lions, the rancher and farmer typically vote with the sportsmen, creating a solid voting block of seven. Those on the other side of the issue might as well not show up.
Sportsmen can see the future and they don’t like it. Funding for wildlife management from sources other than license and tag sales will be needed. The worry among sportsmen is that non-consumptive funding of wildlife management will come with a corresponding request for more influence in management decisions. Their “culture” and “heritage” will be threatened by those who may have different values and ideas regarding wildlife management.
Sportsmen may not be incorrect in their concerns. The public is increasingly taking an interest in wildlife issues including values, management and providing economic clout.
When the public is asked whether it approves of legal hunting, i.e. a father who buys a license, gets a tag, kills a deer during hunting season and puts the meat into a freezer for family consumption, public approval is about 70 percent.
Should the public be asked whether it approves of the killing of Cecil the Lion, trophy hunting, trapping, strangling animals with snares, shooting wolves and coyotes from airplanes, chasing bears and mountain lions with dogs to shoot them out of a tree, coyote killing contests, poisoning wildlife, killing coyote pups in dens and the like, approval ratings will not come anywhere near 70 percent.
Should SJR 11 be approved by the voters in 2018, what would change, in my view, is that the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners would become even more recalcitrant towards public concerns about current wildlife management practices which are objectionable and in need of revision. Given that the public is already outvoted at least 7:2 on those issues before the discussion even starts, more recalcitrance is not needed.
Given the topography of this topic, and given that hunting, fishing and trapping are privileges already embedded in NRS, does SJR 11 belong in the Nevada Constitution?
I think not.
Don Molde is one of the founders of the Nevada Wildlife Alliance, a nonprofit that started its life as Nevadans for Responsible Wildlife in August 2014.