“As a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.” —James Madison
On Tuesday a Union Leader editorial called House Bill 1339, “preposterous”. In the UL Editorial entitled, “Contract Hunting,” The UL aptly describes why the bill is problematic. HB 1339, sponsored by Representative Paul Mirski, Joe Duarte and Gary Hopper, is an effort to keep access to hunting, fishing and trapping accessible to all, irrespective of economic and social strata.
The Union Leader points out,
“(HB 1339) would prohibit anyone with a hunting, fishing or trapping license from paying a private property owner for the exclusive rights to hunt, fish or trap on said owner’s property. This is plainly an abridgement of both private property rights and the right to contract…“
Many in the Hunting community agree with that, based on the bill in its’ present form. And far be it from many to intend on denying ones’ property rights. However, the UL demonstrates its’ lack of any meaningful dialog with the Hunting Community, in that it fails to recognize the single issue culminating this legislative effort.
In New Hampshire, all land that is not posted is presumed to be open to Hunting and access for other recreational purposes and our state provides incentives in furtherance of that purpose. First, we have laws intended to substantially limit landowners from being sued by recreational interests who enter upon private land; Second, our land taxation system provides a modest incentive for private landowners who allow such recreational access. Finally, a Fish & Game Department that is both sensitive and proactive in dealing with issues as they arise regarding landowners who make their land accessible. Nearly 80% of land used for recreational purposes in New Hampshire is privately owned.
We need only to look to the midwestern states where most land is effectively closed to understand the underlying concept of why this legislation came the fore. Hunting in many of those states requires the hunter to pay a substantial fee to a guide or Lease Holder. Consequently, ones hunting options are severely restricted and one does not hunt unless possessed of the financial means to do so.
In the last couple of years there have been well-heeled individuals coming to the Granite State to wrest control of private land for pure financial gain. There is nothing wrong with a farmer or a large landowner contracting with people regarding the use of their land. In fact, the option is often times an attractive one to supplement incomes in hard times. The one metric, however, that is not being discussed in this scenario is the ownership of wild animals. While a landowner owns the land and a leaseholder controls the access, neither have an inherent exclusive property right in the wild animals on any land.
While the UL advocates for upholding private property rights, they ignore a the game animals which belong to all of the citizens of this state, hunter and non-hunter alike. While this legislation is problematic because it curtails a property right, HB 1339 has been a useful medium for a conversation about continued access to hunting, irrespective to ones’ station in life. Opponents of the bill don’t appear at all interested in having that particular conversation, UL included.
To be perfectly clear, the bill in it’s present form results in an unnecessary infringement on property and contract rights. No doubt about that. But the question now becomes how do we continue to uphold a time-honored tradition without moving sport hunting into the column of only those who can afford to?