Election Day is fun for me, not because of the candidates per se, but because of the ballots and referenda that are up for vote. Aside from Ohio voting to legalize marijuana, there was another interesting ballot out there yesterday: the Texas Right to Hunt, Fish, and Harvest Amendment, also known as Proposition 6. As the name of the proposition states, this would provide Texans with a constitutional right to hunt and fish. Section B of the Amendment states that its purpose is to manage and control wildlife. This amendment overwhelmingly passed, and Texas has become the nineteenth state with a constitutional right to hunt and fish. With that being said, I would like to try to answer three questions here today:
1) Should this be a constitutional right?
2) Is it necessary to have this be a constitutional right?
3) Would such an amendment help guarantee wildlife conservation?
Constitutional Arguments Regarding Fishing and Hunting
One who argues that we "have the right to do something," it is coming from a stance of natural rights. From a natural rights viewpoint, one's rights definitionally cannot infringe upon another's right. In the debate for a constitutional right to hunt and fish, the biggest opponents are the animal rights activists. Animal rights activists are opposed to this types of amendment, and hunting more generally, because it is an infringement upon animal rights. The question here is whether we can treat animals under the law with the same consideration or equality as humans. As I concluded about a couple of years ago (read here for my take on animal rights and welfare in political philosophy and public policy), the answer is in the negative. In this specific context, if we were to hypothetically get to the point of banning hunting or fishing, then we would need to ban consumption of animals, which has multiple feasibility and philosophical issues. Keep in mind that the probability of a downright ban of hunting or fishing is minuscule, but rather that such amendments are preemptive moves to ensure that it doesn't take place.
Let's frame the argument of putting animals on the spectrum of being equals to humans and being considered mere property. I'm certainly not going to argue that animals are equal to human beings. Given how current jurisprudence treats animals, let's put the status of animals closer to being man's property. If we go on the complete end of the spectrum and treat animals like any other piece of property, then the constitutional right to hunt and fish is implicit in laws governing property rights. Given the amount of Texans who fish and hunt, it very well comes off as more superfluous than anything else. On a personal level, I wouldn't hunt because it's not kosher under Jewish law. It is my right not to hunt, just as it is the right of others to go hunting. In a similar vein, I do have to wonder what the effects of hunting are on the individual hunters that hunt for sport versus those that are hunting for conservationist purposes. Does hunting incline one towards more violent tendencies? It would be interesting to see conclusive data on that. On the one hand, hunting has its violence. It might not be as bad as what we see on television, but there is still a violent component. On the other hand, much like with video games, I can see hunting having a substitution effect in which hunting satisfies the urges so that people are less likely to act on those violent tendencies. It would be nice to see which theory holds, but until there are adequate studies, this facet needs to be tabled. As a side note, from a moralistic standpoint, it becomes easier to justify hunting if it is done to "secure the aggregate welfare of the target species, the integrity of its ecosystem, or both" than it is to justify hunting for sport, but as long at it conserves the species and hunting can act as a substitute for violence towards human beings, I have less of a moral qualm with hunting.
Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife Conservation
However, even if we are to view fish or game as property, there is the matter of conservation. This is important because if we deplete the number of animals to hunt or fish, then the ability to hunt or fish in the long-run becomes in danger. In order to guarantee that future generations can hunt and fish, we need to conserve our resources. I think part of the solution can be found in what is causing overpopulation in certain species, whether that is increased urbanization or if hunting the overpopulated species' natural predator (i.e., hunting caused the problem). It is difficult to say that outlawing hunting works because like with other prohibitions, it assumes that the action ceases to take place. Instead, hunting goes underground to the poaching market, and often with worse results. From that standpoint, hunting with data-based regulations would have a more sound argument than a downright ban on hunting. I have proposed increased privatization of national parks, and I would be interested if that would help with keeping animal populations in check. Barring land privatization, I do have to wonder if hunting is the best alternative to deal with managing animal populations.
The Humane Society provides an alternative to hunting: immunocontraceptives. Essentially, this would be a non-violent way of producing a similar outcome. However, the issue with immunocontraceptives are only effective in small, fenced-in areas. For something like deer, which is an animal in the United States that commonly overpopulates, studies show that hunting remains the most effective method of controlling the deer population. If immunocontraceptives can be implemented more effectively or we come up with a better system of controlling animal populations, I would be all ears. Until such policy alternatives come along, I have to side with hunting, albeit with some regulations to make sure that the pendulum doesn't swing to the side of making the species endangered or extinct.