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Hunting, fishing rights proposition gunned down at polls

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Hunting, fishing rights proposition gunned down at polls

Voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot measure to make hunting and fishing constitutional rights in Arizona and forbid laws or rules that restrict such activities.

Unofficial returns showed Proposition 109 trailing by a wide margin.

Wildlife advocacy groups objected in particular to provisions that would make the Legislature the sole authority regulating hunting and fishing, forbidding any law or rule restricting the activities. They said that change would politicize wildlife management and curtail citizen initiatives.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter, said voters recognized that Proposition 109 was a bad idea that did not belong in the constitution.

Bahr said defeating Proposition 109 was vital to the future of wildlife management in Arizona, ensuring decisions would be based on science and not politics.

"We hope that the Legislature gets the message," Bahr said in a phone interview.

Robert Woodhouse, a member of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, which endorsed the measure, expressed disappointment. "We put out a good campaign, we spent quite heavily, but the voters have gone the other way," he said.

He noted, however, that the commission was outspent by Proposition 109 opponents including the Humane Society. "It was just hard to counter all the misinformation that was put out," Woodhouse said.

The Humane Society of the United States contributed $250,000, as of Oct. 13, to the effort to defeat Proposition 109, joining with the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter and the Animal Defense League of Arizona under the banner Arizonans Against the Power Grab.

In all, the effort had raised $273,000, according to a filing with the Secretary of State's Office.

The National Rifle Association contributed nearly $70,000 to support the measure, through Oct. 13, while the hunting-rights group Safari Club International contributed $50,000, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

Brad Powell, vice president of Arizona Wildlife Federation, a supporter of proposition 109, said his group will meet in two days for an assessment of the effort and to decide the next course of action.

"Our goal is to have healthy fish and wildlife in Arizona and make sure the citizens understand how important fishing and hunting is," he said.

Approving a bill authored by state Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale, the Legislature referred the matter to the ballot last spring. The Arizona Game and Fish Commission, which is responsible for managing wildlife, registered its support.

Twelve other states have established a constitutional right to hunt and fish.

The groups warned that Proposition 109 would interfere with citizen initiatives seeking to amend state statutes on wildlife issues. They noted that voters in 1994 approved such an initiative banning the use of steel-jawed traps.

If the Legislature has sole authority over hunting and fishing, in order to affect wildlife management citizens would have to amend the state constitution, which require more petition signatures. Initiatives to amend statutes require petitions signed by 10 percent of registered voters; the requirement is 15 percent for initiatives to amend the constitution.

Gov. Jan Brewer and U.S. Sen. John McCain, both Republicans, were among the elected officials supporting Proposition 109.

Supporters noted that the state constitution has provisions supporting the timber industry and mining, which affect the outdoors. Such a designation for hunting and fishing would continue a long tradition of thoughtful wildlife management in Arizona, they said.

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