I heard in the news today that two Kentucky state representatives have pre-filed a bill proposing an amendment to the state constitution "to guarantee hunting and fishing could never be outlawed without a statewide vote first." A bit of searching revealed that some of our neighbors to the south (Tennessee) are engaged in a similar campaign. The claims in both states are that hunting and fishing are a part of the heritage and tradition of the people, a "way of life," as Rep. Greg Stumbo of Kentucky puts it. Hunting and fishing also generate state revenues (which support, it is claimed, wildlife conservation and maintenance of natural spaces: see here for example), and the Tennessee Wildlife Federation claims that the "hunting and fishing traditions are a critically important part of wildlife conservation in Tennessee."
Stumbo (Kentucky House Speaker) says, "The rights of our current sportsmen and the rights of those sportsmen in future generations ought to be protected and make it clear that the people of Kentucky want our game management practices to remain as they are today." And WEKU reports, "Stumbo claims a real threat to hunting and fishing could surface in the Commonwealth."
So far, I have not been able to identify an actual, specific threat to hunting and fishing in Kentucky or Tennessee, except for the general disdain for PETA expressed on hunting discussion boards. Thus, I sympathize with with Tennessee Rep. Johnnie Turner's doubts about whether such amendments are necessary. Also like Turner, I don't have any general objection to hunting and fishing when done as humanely as possible and in accordance with wildlife management practices that promote the sustainability of the relevant species. (But that's also a reason to be suspicious of Stumbo's claim that the game management practices should "remain as they are today." Nature is dynamic, as is society; and so trying to keep things as they are, depending on the details, could be ecologically stupid.)
At the same time, I find something about all of this--pardon the expression--fishy. I'm not much of an expert on rights, but I have reservations about a mere appeal to "tradition," "heritage," or "way of life" as a defense of an activity or practice which, it seems, is rightly subject to ethical scrutiny and regulation. Again, in saying that, I don't think ethical scrutiny implies that hunting and fishing "lose." I'm willing to be charitable and to recognize that the hunters who operate with a "shoot it if it moves" mentality are not representative of the best possibilities here. I know hunters I respect, and some I think are idiots. And while there are some interesting points made here about the possible undesirable complications of a "right to hunt," I find the characterization of hunting at the end of that article, as "killing for fun," to be somewhat naive. (See this interview with Lawrence Cahoone, who's recently published "Hunting as a Moral Good"--which I still need to read carefully. Cahoone's claim is that hunting is not best understood as a sport.)
But are hunting and fishing plausibly understood as practices that deserve the status of constitutionally protected rights? I'm just not sure, and at the end of the day, I suspect that this is all just an effort to curry favor with voters.