Animal Protection, Hunting Rights on State Ballots in November

WASHINGTON, DC, September 27, 2000 (ENS) - Voters in seven states will be asked to accept or reject a host of measures concerning the hunting, racing, trapping and poisoning of animals that will appear on their ballots in the November election.

Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president at the Humane Society of the United States, said that the large number of animal related measures on state ballots this year is indicative of a growing movement towards more animal protections.

"Frustrated by inaction or obstructionism by elected officials, citizens are taking matters into their own hands and placing animal protection measures on ballots for direct voting by the people," said Pacelle. "Citizens can halt animal cruelty simply by exercising the franchise during this year's general election."

More than a dozen measures designed to protect animals have been approved by voters since 1990, Pacelle noted.

In this year's general election, voters in Oregon and Washington will decide measures to restrict the use of steel jawed leghold traps and poisons. The two measures allow the use of certain traps, under permit, to "protect public health and safety, endangered species, private property, or livestock or to conduct scientific research." They would ban the use of two poisons: Compound 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate) and sodium cyanide.

Citizens in Massachusetts will vote on the first ever measure to ban greyhound racing. Violators would be subject to a civil penalty of not less than $20,000. When greyhounds do not run profitably, they are of little use to the racing business, says the Greyhound Protection League. Over 20,000 greyhounds are killed each year in the United States, the group says.


Racing dogs left to be killed at a shelter in Pittsfield, Massachusetts from Green Mountain Track, Vermont, now closed. (Photo courtesy Greyhound Protection League)
And in Alaska, voters will have the option of restoring the state's ban on hunters who employ aircraft to "land and shoot" wolves.

All of this year's "pro-animal" measures were put on the ballots by concerned citizens, Pacelle noted.

The Humane Society also supports an Oklahoma initiative that would to ban cockfighting, Pacelle said. However, that measure is tied up in the courts and is unlikely to be decided during this year's election. The proposed ballot initiative would make it illegal to hold or encourage a fight and would make it illegal to keep birds for fighting purposes or to be a spectator at a fight. Oklahoma is one of only three states to still allow cockfighting.

A host of so-called hunting rights measures will also be on ballots in a number of states this year. All of these measures were referred to the ballots by state lawmakers, not citizens at large.

State legislators in Alaska referred a measure to that state's ballot which seeks to ban any citizen initiatives that would protect wildlife.

Supporters of the measure, such as the Coalition for the Alaskan Way of Life, see it as protecting the right of Alaskans to manage their own affairs. They believe a yes vote "removes the fate of Alaska’s wildlife and wild places from the auction block of modern Initiatives and Referendums where "public policy is bought and sold to the highest bidder and selfishly manipulated by multi-million dollar special interest groups with little or no expertise or knowledge about Alaska."


Kodiak bears like this one are the largest bears in the world. A subspecies of the brown bear, they live only on the islands of Alaska's Kodiak Archipelago and have been isolated from other bears for about 12,000 years. (Photo courtesy Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game)
Supporters of this ballot initiative resent outside individuals and organizations with tax free incomes of millions of dollars who "arrogantly come to Alaska and buy advertising on our radio stations, in our newspapers and on television to impose their views on and gain control of Alaskan wildlife."

But critics of the Alaska ballot initiative such as the Humane Society and the Doris Day Animal League say the measure takes away the voting rights of Alaskans and is an attack on the initiative process. If this initiative is approved, it could have the effect of inviting other special interests to prevent the use of citizen decision making on other social and economic matters.

Arizona state lawmakers drafted a measure that would require a two-thirds "supermajority" of votes to pass any wildlife protection initiative. The 1994 Arizona measure restricting the use of inhumane steel jawed leghold traps received an overwhelming favorable vote of 59 percent, but would have failed by a large margin if the two-thirds standard had been in place.

In North Dakota and Virginia, state legislators spearheaded measures that would entrench hunting and fishing rights in their respective state constitutions. The North Dakota resolution states, "hunting and fishing and the taking of game and fish are a valued part of our heritage and will be forever preserved for the people and managed by law and regulation for the public good."

Pacelle said, "These deceitfully worded measures, collectively speaking, amount to an outrageous attack on the voting rights of Americans. These measures should be rejected by any people concerned about democratic decision-making and retaining their right to decide future animal protection issues."

He said that the hunting rights measures reflect the hunting industry's concerns with the initiatives that were passed during the 1990s, which have limited practices such as bear baiting, hound hunting, and trapping.