Raleigh, N.C. — A proposal filed Tuesday would let voters decide whether to amend the state constitution to add the right to hunt and fish.
A similar proposal passed the Senate in 2016 but failed to win House approval.
Senate Bill 677 would put the amendment on the ballot in November 2018, a mid-term election likely to have low turnout. Sponsor Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico, predicted overwhelming support for the ballot measure.
"I think a great percentage of citizens in North Carolina think that this is an important thing that we’re doing," Sanderson said Tuesday.
Co-sponsor Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, cited a study that found sportsmen and women spent $2.3 billion in the state in 2011. Last year alone, he said, the state issued 1.87 million hunting and fishing licenses.
"Hunting and fishing are integral parts of North Carolina’s heritage, economy and conservation efforts," Britt said. "This constitutional amendment will protect future generations, the hunting and fishing rights that have always been part of our heritage and way of life, and it will ensure North Carolina remains a sportsman’s paradise."
According to Anthony Roulette with the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legal Affairs, 21 other states have added similar language to their constitutions.
"Sportsmen have been under attack for many years by well-funded national anti-hunting groups who demonstrate a clear disregard for both the cherished traditions of many Americans as well as responsible wildlife management in their drive to eliminate hunting and fishing," Roulette said. "This amendment will ensure that laws regulating hunting and fishing are only to be genuine conservation efforts based on sound science and not emotion."
Co-sponsor Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, said development and increasing urbanization are the main threats in North Carolina.
"Our access to hunting and fishing has been greatly limited. There’s been a lot of land that’s been developed, so we have fewer resources," Brock said. "We’re not trying to stop development. We’re trying to make sure we protect our resources that we have. We have other amendments in the North Carolina constitution that would preserve other lands. We want to make sure that the heritage and traditions of hunting and fishing are protected as well."
The proposal also has support from hunting groups like Delta Waterfowl. President Frank Rohwer said the number of waterfowl hunters nationwide has dropped by half over the past several decades.
"I would guess the biggest issue is access, and that’s always going to be a tough one, because most hunting in this state and in other states occurs on private land, and that’s a private landowner right to allow hunting or not," Rohwer explained. "But anything that gets in the way of hunting, that’s what we’re trying to deal with."