An Idaho ballot measure that would grant a constitutional right to hunt and fish is controversial because it also would make it a right to trap animals.

Share story

BOISE — Idaho has a measure on the November ballot to enshrine a right to hunt, fish and trap in the state constitution — a proposal that likely would generate virtually no opposition in the outdoorsy state but for the inclusion of trapping.

Thirteen other states have passed right-to-hunt-and-fish amendments, all but one of them in the past 15 years. Three others in addition to Idaho — Kentucky, Nebraska and Wyoming — are considering them in November. But only five states have specifically protected the right to trap.

Greg Moore, head of Idahoans Against Trapping, called trapping “an inherently unethical way to kill animals” and a hazard to pets. “Trapping is just no longer necessary — we don’t need the fur,” he said. “It’s so women in places like Sun Valley who think they’re chic can have fur trim on their ski parkas. That’s not worth all the suffering that goes into it.”

His group has raised $22,000 for a campaign against the constitutional amendment, HJR2aa, and hopes to start running a TV commercial against it in the Boise area. The money came from dozens of Idaho residents, campaign-finance reports show, along with $5,000 from a family foundation and $1,000 from the Idaho Sierra Club.

Patrick Carney, president of the Idaho Trappers Association, said opponents are misinformed. “I do not believe that it’s inhumane,” he said. “We’ve come a long ways over the last probably 40 years with the kinds of traps.”

His group is preparing radio ads and billboards in favor of the amendment. He said of the measure’s opponents, “They’re against everything. They want us to eat bean sprouts and tofu, I guess.”

Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, author of the Idaho amendment, said he wants to preserve the state’s heritage of hunting, fishing and trapping for future generations. “It needs to be preserved in our constitution so that it can’t be challenged every year by some other faction,” Heider said.

Trapping is a much smaller portion of Idaho’s wildlife scene than hunting and fishing; the state licensed 1,752 trappers last year but sold more than half a million licenses for hunting or fishing.

State Fish and Game records show more than 800 nontargeted animals got caught in traps over the past two years, including 102 rabbits, 62 squirrels, 49 skunks, 44 mountain lions, 37 porcupines, 35 deer, 30 dogs, 24 house cats and two eagles. Not all were killed or injured; where possible, they were released unharmed.

Craig White, a wildlife biologist with Idaho Fish and Game, noted that interest in trapping in Idaho fluctuates with the economy and with the price of a bobcat pelt, which now is high, averaging $300 to $500. Idaho had about 1,000 licensed trappers until two years ago, when the number started climbing to the current 1,700-plus.

The amendment has aroused some concern among constitutional scholars for recognizing something other than a traditional “fundamental right” like freedom of speech or religion. David Adler, constitutional expert and head of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University, likened it to amending a constitution to add a right to smoke or a right to ride a bicycle.

“We wouldn’t clutter up the constitution with those kinds of interests,” he said.

Adler said, “Hunting and fishing rights would not ever be threatened in Idaho — it’s in Idahoans’ DNA. The practice of trapping might be a different issue. But that’s why it’s all the more important to deal with that at a legislative level, because legislators can take account of society’s views and values on that kind of an activity.”

Creating a new constitutional right could invite lawsuits over whether various hunting, fishing or trapping regulations go too far, Adler warned. Lawmakers cited that concern, among others, in rejecting the first five versions of Heider’s amendment this year before finally backing the sixth.

Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission has unanimously endorsed the amendment.