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TWRA to Re-Open Catoosa Beginning Aug. 20

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, Aug 18, 2011:

CROSSVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has announced that Catoosa Wildlife Management Area located in Cumberland, Morgan, and Fentress counties will be re-opened to public access effective Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011.

Catoosa WMA has been officially closed since Aug. 8, 2011 due to vandalism in the form of nails, spikes, and nail boards placed in secondary roads and fields across the area. The WMA was closed for public safety concerns related to the vandalism.

Throughout the 12-day closure, TWRA personnel have worked to find and remove the dangerous materials. As a result of the cleanup effort, TWRA officials have made significant efforts to find and remove the hazardous material and now are reasonably assured that the WMA is safe again for public use.

According to Kirk Miles, TWRA Region III Wildlife Program Manager, the re-opening of the WMA comes earlier than expected.

“When we began our cleanup efforts we set a target date of Aug. 27 to re-open Catoosa,” said Miles. “It is a testament to the dedication and diligence of Catoosa WMA personnel, who worked to find and remove the nails and spikes, that we are able to re-open the area earlier than we originally anticipated.”

As the WMA re-opens, visitors should be aware that some danger may still exist on the WMA, particularly when travelling on secondary roads and trails.

“The closure and the circumstances that led to the closure were unfortunate,” said Miles. “The actions of these vandals negatively impacted a lot of recreational users of Catoosa and negatively impacted the local economies of surrounding counties. It will be a good feeling to see Catoosa reasonably safe and open again.”

The earlier than expected re-opening of Catoosa WMA will allow the area to be accessible to the public for Tennessee’s Annual Free Hunting Day on Saturday, Aug. 27. Free Hunting Day in Tennessee is when state residents may hunt without a license. The event coincides with the opening day of squirrel hunting season.

Voters to Decide if ‘Personal Right’ to Hunt & Fish is Reasonable

The term “reasonable” doesn’t appear in the U.S. or Tennessee Constitutions, except for proscriptions against the government carrying out “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

But the Tennessee Wildlife Federation — with the endorsement of all but three members of the state Legislature — wants to add that word, and 59 or so others, in the form of a constitutional amendment that would place hunting and fishing on the list of legally protected rights enjoyed by Tennesseans.

The amendment, which if passed would be added to the section of the Tennessee Constitution that grants state government the authority “to enact laws for the protection and preservation of game and fish,” reads as follows:

“The citizens of this state shall have the personal right to hunt and fish, subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions prescribed by law. The recognition of this right does not abrogate any private or public property rights, nor does it limit the state’s power to regulate commercial activity. Traditional manners and means may be used to take non-threatened species.”

The process of getting the measure before voters has been years in the making. Conceived in 2004, the language has twice been approved by the General Assembly — most recently, this past legislative session — and must now attract “yes” votes from a majority of voters participating in the upcoming gubernatorial election.

Critics of the amendment suggest that a change to the Constitution is unnecessary and excessive.

Argues the state’s largest metropolitan newspaper, “a simple resolution would have sufficed to send the message that hunting and fishing is here to stay.” Furthermore, the use of the word “reasonable” is “vague and open to interpretation.” It could, for example, embolden litigious malcontents to challenge licensing and fee requirements placed upon sportsmen by the Tennessee Department of Fish and Wildlife and thus jeopardize “a crucial revenue source,” the Tennessean editorial board worries.

Those concerns, however, don’t appear to be shared by state government wildlife managers.

Nat Johnson, TWRA assistant executive director of staff operations, said the term “reasonable” sounds reasonable enough to officials and attorneys with the department, although he noted that the agency cannot by law take a formal stance of support or opposition on the measure.

Officials do, however, offer that they in no way see the language of the amendment as hindering “the responsibilities of the agency to set manner and means” for taking fish and wildlife, said Johnson, who also serves as TWRA’s legislative liaison to the Tennessee General Assembly.

“Legal staff has looked at this, and they have not seen it become an issue in any other states,” he said. “They haven’t seen that it provided any avenues for people to challenge a state’s ability to regulate and set reasonable rules and regulations.”

More than a dozen other states have guarantees of hunters’ rights written into their constitutions, and others are considering measures.

Tennessee Wildlife Federation CEO Michael Butler told TNReport his group consulted closely with state wildlife officials, constitutional attorneys and the chief legislative sponsors of the amendment, Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, and Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, to ensure that the amendment language enumerates the desired right without undermining state government fish and wildlife management authority.

“Most people already think they have a right to hunt and fish. So for most people, this amendment is just confirming what they already thought,” Butler said. “They can’t really imagine not being able to do it.”

However, the whole point of the amendment, he said, is to add a layer of legal defense against political activists and pressure groups that believe hunting and fishing not only aren’t “rights,” but probably shouldn’t even be tolerated by government.

Constitutionally speaking, “all it would take now to get rid of a hunting or fishing season is a vote by the Legislature,” Butler said.

Johnson confirmed that the department advised the wildlife federation on the amendment “almost since its inception.”

“We worked to achieve a comfort level that we thought everybody could live with,” he said.

Vanderbilt constitutional law professor James Blumstein noted that although the term “reasonable” isn’t one you’ll find in constitutional language, it “permeates our law.”

While a subjective interpretation might at times be “fairly debatable,” Blumstein said, judges generally approach it from the standpoint of asking if government has “a rational basis for doing something, and that it meets a reasonableness test.”

“There will be some deference to the regulation, but the regulations have to be reasonable,” he said. In situations where hunting rights conflict with public safety, private property or species management goals, Blumstein said he believes the amendment leaves the government “ample authority to regulate.”

“But what the government cannot do is to simply say we’re against hunting, on the grounds of policy, or that we think that is immoral or that it’s inappropriate in some way, and just have a flat-out ban,” Blumstein said. “Most rights in the Constitution are not absolute rights, and this is recognizing that the right to hunt may exist, but it is not absolute.”

Ramsey Supports Lifetime Sportsman Licenses

Press Release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville; April 6, 2010:

NASHVILLE — Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is an owner of a lifetime sportsman license in Tennessee and encourages all other sportsmen to follow suit. Lt. Gov. Ramsey visited with Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency staff members as they were present at Legislative Plaza recently to promote 2010-11 hunting and fishing licenses to members of the House and Senate.

“The TWRA performs a great service by offering the lifetime license,” said Lt. Gov. Ramsey. “I am proud to own one and I recommend it to all my friends who hunt and fish.”

License sales provide the primary funding for the TWRA, which does not receive any funding from the state’s general fund (i.e. state sales tax). The TWRA relies on license sales as its primary source for funding for its management programs. Licenses are available at any Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) regional office, licensing agent, and on the TWRA Web site, www.tnwildlife.org. The licenses are valid through February 2011.

Right-to-Hunt-&-Fish Amendment Clears Last Hurdle Before Voters

A proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that protects citizens’ right to hunt and fish is headed to the voters.

After already being approved by the Senate, the House approved final passage of the proposed amendment, SJR30, on Thursday.

The language of the measure reads, “The citizens of this state shall have the personal right to hunt and fish, subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions prescribed by law. The recognition of this right does not abrogate any private or public property rights, nor does it limit the state’s power to regulate commercial activity. Traditional manners and means may be used to take non-threatened species.”

The House sponsor of the resolution, Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, said the amendment is needed to prevent erosion of the rights before they are attacked.

“They didn’t think they had a problem in Great Britain and other European countries until it was politically popular to ban certain types of hunting, and then it was too late,” McCord said on the House floor. “This isn’t just a knee-jerk reaction to what occurred in some other countries. States such as Pennsylvania put these in their original constitutions when written.”

McCord said 12 other states have similar provisions in their state constitutions and at least eight other states are considering such a measure.

Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, questioned the need for the measure. “Your reference has been to what has happened in other countries. What has happened in Tennessee — what has happened in America — that has led you to seek this amendment?” she asked.

McCord acknowledged there doesn’t appear to be a current or immediate threat against people hunting and fishing. But nothing presently in the Tennessee Constitution prohibits lawmakers or political interests hostile to the harvest of fish and wild game from attempting to outlaw or unreasonably restrict the activities in the future, he said.

“There is currently not a problem with this, but what happened in other countries, when it became politically popular, it was too late to address the issue, and we are trying to address it now while it’s not a problem before it becomes a problem,” he said.

Turner said she is not against people who hunt or fish, but she said the issue could be resolved through state laws and regulations rather than a constitutional amendment.

“I just think that the Constitution is sacred, and those laws that we pass should reflect upon the uniqueness, the importance, of this,” she said. “My husband was an avid fisherman…but all he had to do was follow the rules and regulations of wherever he was. I just cannot understand why we would need a constitutional amendment. I’m talking about the sacredness of the Constitution.”

McCord said protecting those rights by constitutional amendment is the strongest way to protect hunting and fishing rights. “We all in this room assume we have that right (to hunt and fish), but we’re not guaranteed that right unless it’s by Constitution,” he said.

A change to the state Constitution must be approved by a two-thirds majority in each legislative chamber in two consecutive General Assemblies, and it then must be approved by the voters, while a change in state law takes approval by a simple majority of each chamber plus the governor’s signature and is not subject to the approval of the voters.

McCord added that the measure would not prevent state government from protecting any species deemed threatened.

“This does not take the ability for the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency to set reasonable regulations – their first goal is the protection of species, and they maintain that responsibility and right,” he said.

Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, said the push for the constitutional amendment was a preemptive strike against the Obama administration.

“I heard the whole scenario as to the rage that’s going across the country with this whole idea this present administration is moving to ban this right,” she said. “It’s alright if Tennessee wants to respond to every kind of allegation that’s out there, so eventually we’re not going to be able to even read the Constitution it’s going to be so long.”

McCord responded that the move to pass the proposed constitutional amendment began while George W. Bush was still president.

The final vote was 90-1.

Turner was the lone vote against the measure. Brown and Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga pushed the “present but not voting” button. Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, and Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, were present but did not vote.

Reps. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, Gary Moore, D-Joelton, Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, and John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, were excused from attending the floor session.

The vote in the Senate, which occurred in late January, was unanimous.