Common Sense and the Environment Won (Mostly) on Election Day

From constitutional amendments guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish to ballot initiatives concerning statewide plastic bag bans and the creation of a carbon-dioxide tax on industry, environmental issues were prominently featured on several states’ ballots on November 8.

The question of whether wildlife should be managed by professional wildlife managers—based on a scientific assessment of the best methods to maintain healthy, sustainable animal populations—was an issue decided by voters in Indiana, Kansas, and Montana.

Despite opposition from animal rights organizations, including People for the ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, constitutional amendments guaranteeing people the right to hunt and fish were passed by substantial majorities of voters in Indiana and Kansas. Both measures, in the words of Kansas’ amendment, guaranteed, “The people have the right to hunt, fish and trap … subject to reasonable laws and regulations that promote wildlife conservation and management and that preserve the future of hunting and fishing.”

The Kansas amendment, which was approved by more than 81 percent of those voting, also designated hunting and fishing “preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”

Indiana’s amendment, which passed with support from 78 percent of voters (compared to just 19 percent who opposed), guaranteed the right to hunt and fish “forever.”

With the passage of the hunting protections in Indiana and Kansas, 21 state constitutions now guarantee the right to hunt and fish. Two other state constitutions guarantee the right to fish, though not the right to hunt, and the right to hunt and fish are protected by statutes in two more states.

In Montana, animal rights activists failed to restrict trapping on public lands. In 2015, the legislature passed a constitutional amendment adding trapping to Montana’s previously enacted constitutional provision guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish. Activists garnered enough signatures to put a provision on the 2016 ballot to limit trapping on state lands. Sixty-three percent of Montana voters rejected the trapping limits.

Ben Carter, executive director of the Dallas Safari Club, cheered the results, saying they upheld America’s successful, traditional wildlife management regime.

“Glad to see sound management of species by state wildlife agencies is being maintained, informed by science based, wildlife principles, as opposed to emotional decision-making encouraged by those that don’t understand how wildlife management works,” said Carter. “The North American Model of wildlife management has a proud, effective history of keeping nature and wildlife in balance!”

In California, 52 percent of voters narrowly approved Proposition 67, which upheld the state’s ban on single-use plastic grocery bags; 48 percent of voters opposed it. The bag ban amendment passed despite the fact plastic bag bans limit consumer choice and copious evidence shows plastic bag bans don’t save cities or states money, don’t reduce solid waste, and could result in overall environmental harm.

The result did not surprise me since Californians routinely ignore actual evidence of what policies best ensure environmental protection, and instead embrace policies that project the “image” they are environmental saviors.

Also on the ballot in California was Proposition 65, to shift the revenue grocery stores currently collect from a 10-cent-per-bag fee for paper grocery bags from grocers to fund environmental programs in the state. Despite pre-election polling showing strong support for the measure, the bag fee shift failed.

Washington State voters rejected Initiative-732 (I-732) which would have imposed a $25-per-metric-ton tax on carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels in Washington State. Had the initiative passed, Washington would have become the first state in the nation to impose a tax on carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

Unsurprisingly, the business community fought the initiative. They rightly argued it would raise energy prices and harm Washington State businesses competing with out-of-state companies.

What surprised many people, however, was the fact many national environmental groups also opposed the carbon tax initiative, because, rather than using the funds generated to support environmental causes, I-732 aimed to be revenue neutral by reducing the state sales tax and providing up to $1,500 per year for 400,000 low-income working households.

The results in Washington State show what I have long argued: Many environmental lobbying groups are more concerned about gaming the system to gain more money and power over people’s lives than they are about protecting the environment.

Except for the bag ban vote in California, I applaud the results of the election and believe the environment and common sense won in 2016.

Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow on energy and the environment at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.