- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Keith Houghton, owner of Ringneck Ranch in North Central Kansas, has hosted hunters on his grain fields for over three decades. Houghton called hunting, fishing and trapping a mainstay of the state’s cultural heritage. But he worries that laws restricting hunting in other states could foreshadow threats to the sports in the future.

“We’re not threatened today … but we need to preserve the right for people to hunt,” Houghton said.

Kansas would become one of about 20 states that make hunting and fishing a constitutional right if voters approve it in the Nov. 8 election. The Senate gave final approval to the House resolution in a 36-0 vote Thursday, after it passed 117-7 in the House last month.

The measure would add a new section to the constitution’s Bill of Rights to preserve hunting and fishing as a preferred way to manage wildlife. Any future measures seeking to limit the sports would need to prove that a particular animal could become endangered.

Houghton said the legislature’s overwhelming support for the bill is indicative of how most people in Kansas feel about hunting.

“They’re concerned about the social evolution and they want a chance to preserve what has been part of the heritage since Kansas was settled in the 1800s,” Houghton said about the proposal, adding that it should be a constitutional amendment because “rules and regulation evolve.”

Topeka Republican Rep. Ken Corbet, owner of Ravenwood Lodge, called the resolution a “pre-emptive” one that would ensure his 32-year-old son will be free to hunt on the family’s grounds just as he did.

“Colorado’s got Pikes Peak, South Dakota has Mount Rushmore and what Kansas has is our rich outdoor heritage,” Corbet said, adding that he thinks the ballot measure will pass in November because hunting plays a vital role in the state economy. Kansas brought in over $22.5 million from hunting and fishing permits and licenses in the 2014 fiscal year, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

Gun-rights’ groups fear that a great source of the state’s economy could be threatened if hunting and fishing is restricted in the future.

“What we’ve seen, unfortunately, are misguided extremists that have been trying to ban hunting and fishing either outright, or incrementally,” said Catherine Mortensen, a National Rifle Association spokeswoman.

She referenced several instances around the country in which animal-rights organizations successfully banned the hunting of certain animals that weren’t endangered. A 1990 ballot initiative banned mountain lion hunting in California and campaigns by animal protection groups in 2006 banned dove hunting in Michigan.

But others question if the resolution is a solution in search of a problem. Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas, said the measure might prevent citizens from stepping in to prevent un-sportsman practices, such as excessive gaming.

“It could conceivably be used as an argument against more moderate restrictions or regulations,” Klataske said. He added that the greatest threat to hunters is the loss of habitat and not animal rights organizations. Kansas has lost 1.7 million acres of land protected by a federal conservation program over the past 10 years to agriculture, Klataske said.

“It’s ridiculous to put something like that in the state constitution,” Klataske said about the resolution.

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