What to know about Florida’s Amendment 2, the hunting and fishing ballot question

This election season, Florida voters will have a chance to solidify the right to hunt and fish in the state’s constitution by voting in favor of Amendment 2.

Placed on the state ballot by Florida lawmakers, Amendment 2 aims to establish a constitutional right to hunt and fish, which its proponents believe is a necessity to protect the outdoor recreation industry and give power back to Florida residents.

“There’s a lot of people, both on the Democratic side and the Republican side, that do enjoy these past times,” said state Rep. Alex Rizo, R-Hialeah, who was a co-sponsor for the bill that put the amendment on the ballot.

But critics of the proposal fear that it could cause more harm than good.

The Animal Law Section of the Florida Bar has taken an active stance against Amendment 2, arguing that the specific language of the amendment could put the state’s wildlife and its ecosystems at risk.

Ralph DeMeo, animal law lawyer and legislative lobbyist for the Animal Law Section, said that apart from being “dangerous,” Amendment 2 is also “unnecessary” given that hunting and fishing already has statutory protection in Florida.

“It really does nothing to help anybody except maybe hunters and fishermen, but even then, the additional benefit to them is negligible because we already have in place statutory protections for those activities,” said DeMeo.

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What does Amendment 2 say?

Amendment 2 aims to “preserve forever fishing and hunting, including by the use of traditional methods, as a public right and preferred means of responsibly managing and controlling fish and wildlife.”

The amendment also states that it would not infringe on the authority of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the state government entity that oversees the regulation of hunting and fishing in Florida.

The current state statute says that Floridians have “the right to hunt, fish and take game.”

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What do proponents say?

Rizo is an avid fisherman and said he’d like to see some of the regulations that have increased over the years on fishing and hunting rolled back, and would like to put more power put back in the hands of the sportsmen and women in Florida.

That’s what he believes Amendment 2 will accomplish.

“I do believe in a balance. We have a lot of people and we’ve seen that we as human beings can make a huge impact, both negatively and positively, on our environment and our natural resources. So I do believe in management of our resources,” said Rizo. “But I also think that balance sometimes is skewed by the heavy hand of the government and there are certain restrictions that may go too far.”

Rizo said he believes that Floridians should have not only a right to fish and hunt, but also should be included as one of the key factors for managing wildlife.

“We need to have people enjoy the natural outdoors. That’s one of the beautiful things that we have here in Florida. That’s why we talk about ‘traditional methods.’ It’s really that we’re talking about people — not corporations, not companies, not businesses. It’s all about just the common person.”

Other lawmakers that supported the bill also mentioned that the amendment would further protect Floridians’ right to hunt and fish from groups or movements seeking to restrict those activities.

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What do critics say?

One portion of the ballot language that critics are concerned about with Amendment 2 is the phrase that it would establish hunting and fishing as the “preferred” method for wildlife management.

As communities in Florida continue to rapidly develop, the land that once belonged to wildlife will continue to disappear and potentially lead to more instances where animal habitats will be in close proximity to humans, which critics say will lead to an increased need for wildlife management.

As this need for management increases, they fear that this amendment could place non-lethal options as a secondary choice for managing wildlife populations, whereas killing and hunting animals would take priority.

“Any honest wildlife biologist will tell you that saying that hunting and fishing is the preferred means to responsibly managing and controlling fish and wildlife is not only wrong, but it’s dangerous,” said DeMeo. “It might open up the floodgates of people to hunt and fish thinking that somehow they’re doing a conservation effort.”

One species in particular that opponents of the amendment worry will be negatively affected is the Florida black bear.

In 2015 the FWC held an organized bear hunt as a means of management of the once endangered black bear population. The hunt was set to last a week in four areas of the state, but it was called off after two days as the expected bear death count was reached prematurely. In total, 304 kills were documented. A report from the FWC on the hunt says that although a “number of warnings” and “two misdemeanor citations” were issued during the bear hunt, overall during the organized event “hunter compliance with regulations was high.”

But DeMeo called the hunt a “complete debacle,” saying that regulation during the hunt wasn’t strict enough. He said that kills may have gone undocumented and that cubs were left orphaned from people killing lactating female bears.

The Florida Bar’s Animal Law Section worries that if Amendment 2 passes it will give support to lethal management methods like the 2015 bear hunt.

“It is purely about a certain group of people, hunters, who just want to kill a bear,” said DeMeo. “There’s certainly no wildlife conservation rationale behind it that’s legitimate.”

Other questions raised by critics about the amendment include litigation issues that could arise if it were to pass, fearing that the amendment could be used to block future changes to hunting and fishing regulations that may be needed in the future to protect the state’s wildlife as Florida continues to see increased development.