CAMPAIGN 2012:

Wyo. voters ponder life, liberty and the pursuit of hunting

The preamble to Wyoming's state constitution notes its residents' desire to protect their "civil, political and religious liberties," and if voters agree in November, those rights could soon include hunting, trapping and fishing, too.

Similar state constitutional amendments will also be on the ballot in Idaho, Kentucky and Nebraska.

But while protections for hunters and fishers are among the most common constitutional amendments or ballot initiatives put before voters this fall, individual states will also consider a variety of measures to enact renewable energy standards and expand conservation easements.

Advocates of the hunting amendments -- which already exist in one form or another in 13 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures -- assert the measures are necessary to ward off potential restrictions on hunting seasons, like a 1992 ballot initiative in Colorado that limited bear hunting.

"There are various animal rights groups and activists out there who have a stated goal of ending recreational hunting and fishing, and they sometimes take an incremental approach of achieving that at a state level," said Andy Treharne, Western states manager for the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation.

CSF's Midwestern States Director Chris Horton added that the measures often receive the support of gun rights groups, like the National Rifle Association, as well as organizations like the National Wild Turkey Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, along with conservation groups.

In Idaho, the state's Fish and Game Commission endorsed the constitutional amendment that will go before voters next month and describes hunting, trapping and fishing as a "preferred means" of managing wildlife.

"Public hunting, fishing and trapping are our primary tools for managing wildlife. Without these tools, Idaho Fish and Game would have to rely more on government actions to manage wildlife populations and conflicts, at greater expense and risk," the state's seven-member commission wrote in an Oct. 3 endorsement letter. "The abundant and diverse wildlife we enjoy in Idaho today exists because of the conservation ethic of hunters, anglers and trappers who pay for science-based, professional wildlife management when they buy licenses, tags and sporting equipment."

The Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation's Treharne noted support from state wildlife agencies is not uncommon, considering individual states generate a combined $3 billion annually from hunting and fishing licenses and other related fees.

"Ample access to hunting and fishing activities is pretty crucial to funding state wildlife agencies," Treharne said. "That doesn't only benefit hunters and anglers, but it benefits the general public by ensuring the vitality of wildlife populations in the long run."

But some state legislators have questioned the necessity of such measures, particularly without a specific threat to ban such activities.

"This is Wyoming. I think people were thinking things like, 'You know PETA's going to come in and get the Legislature to pass a law against hunting and fishing.' It's just not going to happen here," Wyoming state Sen. Cale Case (R) told the Associated Press in September. "If it were to happen somehow at the national level -- I just can't fathom that, but even if it did -- I'm not sure what our constitutional provision would do."

PETA campaigns manager Danielle Katz, who said the organization encourages its local members to speak out against such bills and will issue an email asking for members to vote against the amendments, called the proposed amendments "frivolous."

"The amendments would open the door to a flood of other amendments whose sole purpose is just to make a statement for a political interest group," Katz said, suggesting such bills could also lead to a "rash of lawsuits" by hunters or trappers seeking longer hunting seasons or fewer species restrictions.

The Wyoming measure states that the ability to hunt also remains subject to state regulations and doesn't change the state's duty to manage its wildlife population.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks ballot initiatives and state constitutional amendments, all but one of the states that have already adopted hunting and fishing protections have done so since 1996, and Arizona is the only state to have rejected a similar proposal, when voters declined an amendment in 2010.

Maine, Ala., N.D. voters will consider conservation and energy questions

In Maine, voters will decide whether to authorize a $5 million bond for the state's primary land conservation program, Land for Maine's Future.

The measure, which would become the sixth bond for the program since its establishment in 1987, would also require at least $5 million in matching funds from both private and public contributions.

In Alabama, voters will see a constitutional amendment to extend funding to the Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust for an additional 20-year period.

The trust, established in 1992, purchases land to be used for state parks and recreational areas, as well as wildlife management areas and nature preserves. The amendment would continue to fund the trust with interest earned from oil and gas royalties in the state but caps any contributions to $15 million annually.

And environmentalists in North Dakota had likewise sought to put a conservation initiative on the state's ballot, but that effort was short-circuited when 10 North Dakota State University football players hired to gather petitions forged signatures to the documents instead. The Associated Press reported those students pleaded guilty last week to misdemeanor election fraud and will serve community service.

Arizona

In Arizona, voters will consider an amendment promoted by the Legislature that would declare the state's sovereignty over its natural resources, including its water, mineral resources, wildlife and public lands. Arizona state Rep. Chester Crandell (R), who sponsored the amendment, has cited a 2011 forest fire in the state among his chief inspirations for the bill, arguing that logging forests would have helped to prevent the largest forest fire in the state's history.

"This just simply sets the groundwork and sets the message to the federal government that we are a sovereign state," Crandell told the Cronkite News Service at Arizona State University last month. "And we will take care of things within our state boundaries."

Arizona League of Conservation Voters Executive Director Steve Arnquist said that although the proposal has received scant attention -- neither supporters nor opponents of the measure have mounted publicity campaigns or purchased billboards or television ads -- he wouldn't rule out the possibility that the proposal could pass.

"Your average voter may not really think through what state sovereignty for air, water ... resources means," Arnquist said, adding that if the proposal specifically stated it would exempt the state from the federal Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other laws, he would expect the measure to fail.

It appears unlikely, however, that the amendment will succeed. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed a similar proposal in May, and environmental groups in the state have lined up in opposition. Even if the measure passes in November, Arizona would likely face a legal challenge from the federal government.

"It's so clearly unconstitutional, that all it really needs is for somebody to bring the suit. I don't think very many people are questioning how it would end up if it was in court," Arnquist said.

Mich. voters look at RPS standard; Calif. voters will consider 'clean jobs' fund

Michigan has one of the few renewable-energy-related ballot initiatives, after a similar effort stalled in Missouri. That ballot initiative would increase the state's renewable energy standard to 25 percent by 2025, up from its current goal of 10 percent by 2015. The existing standard was signed into law in 2008.

In California, voters will consider a ballot measure that would fund energy efficiency programs and establish a state "Clean Energy Job Creation Fund," by revising a corporate income tax statue.

A state legislative analysis predicts the tax change, which would require multistate businesses to base their state income rate only on the percentage of their total sales in California and eliminate an option that allows some businesses to pay less tax based on out-of-state property and payroll, could generate $1 billion in additional revenue annually.

Under the proposal, $550 million in anticipated revenue would be dedicated to a new "clean energy" job fund, which could be used to support efficiency upgrades to schools and other public facilities, as well as job training related to energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The ballot measure is largely the work of Democrat and Bay Area hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer, who according to San Diego PBS affiliate KPBS has put more than $20 million of his own money into promoting the measure.

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