WA Senators Propose Enshrining Hunting, Fishing As Constitutional Rights

As comment wraps up later this week on the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission’s controversial Conservation Policy ahead of a late January vote, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Olympia has introduced a bill that could help enshrine hunting and fishing as constitutional rights.

Senate Joint Resolution 8208 would create an “inalienable right to forage, hunt, fish, trap, and harvest wildlife and fish” in the state constitution if two-thirds of both the Senate and House agree to put the amendment to the constitution up for a statewide vote and a simple majority of voters approves.

The concept has floated around the legislature in the past, and during a 2017 push to pass a similar bill, Senator John Braun (R-Chehalis) said nearly two dozen other states had such rights written into their constitutions.

Prime sponsor of SJR 8208 is Senator Keith Wagoner (R-Sedro-Woolley) and it is cosponsored by Senators Matt Boehnke (R-Kennewick), Phil Fortunato (R-Auburn), Sam Hunt (D-Olympia), Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines), Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville), Shelly Short (R-Colville) and Lynda Wilson (R-Vancouver).

The bill would begin its journey to the state constitution with a hearing and recommendation out of the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee, though none has been scheduled as of this writing.

A 2022 survey of state residents found that 75 percent strongly (44 percent) or moderately approved of legal, regulated hunting, while 10 percent moderately or strongly (5 percent) disapproved.

SJR 8208 arrives against a backdrop of the Fish and Wildlife Commission rushing to pass a controversial new Conservation Policy at its January 25-27 meeting.

Meant to “inform a variety of Department decisions related to managing fish, wildlife, and ecosystems, identifying long-term priorities, and maintaining recreational opportunities for Washingtonians,” according to Chair Barbara Baker, the latest draft continues to be pushed back on by former Commissioner Kim Thorburn, who has questioned the document and its goals since its surprise September 2021 introduction.

The Spokane birder writes that while the world of the wildlife profession is going through an “open and collaborative process to contemporize conservation principles,” Washington’s commission is in the midst of “(advancing) an effort you call a conservation policy that is in fact an agenda to exclude and divide.”

“The profession has a deep historical understanding of the pivotal role of sustainable use in wildlife conservation. Many consumptive practices are important tools for conservation. Furthermore, hunters’ and anglers’ passion for wildlife undergirds their commitment to conservation, including contributions of great volumes of sweat and treasure to the process. You seem desperate to turn your backs on the essential precept of sustainable use,” Thorburn writes.

Some want the commission to revise the policy so that it clearly states that its definitions do not diminish the citizen panel’s and WDFW’s adherence to the mandates set out by the state legislature, to “preserve, protect, perpetuate, and manage the wildlife and food fish, game fish, and shellfish in state waters and offshore waters” and to “attempt to maximize the public recreational game fishing and hunting opportunities of all citizens.”

Comment on the policy runs through Friday, January 12. You can provide your input by emailing updateddraftconservationpolicy@publicinput.com.

Meanwhile, here is the full text of SJR 8208:


THAT, At the next general election to be held in this state the secretary of state shall submit to the qualified voters of the state for their approval and ratification, or rejection, an amendment to Article I of the Constitution of the state of Washington by adding a new section to read as follows:

Article I, section . . .. From the time humans first occupied this land, hunting, fishing, and foraging have been a necessity and a cultural right. The rights to forage, hunt, fish, and trap, including the use of traditional methods, are a valued part of the heritage of the state of Washington and shall forever be preserved for the people and managed through the laws, rules, and proclamations that preserve the future of hunting, fishing, and trapping. All the people of this state shall have an inalienable right to forage, hunt, fish, trap, and harvest wildlife and fish, subject only to reasonable regulation as prescribed by the Washington state legislature and executive branch. Traditional methods, practices, and procedures of harvest are the preferred means of managing game and fish. Nothing in this section may be construed to modify any provision of common law or statutes relating to trespass, eminent domain, or any other property rights, nor does this section supersede, limit, interpret, or infringe upon any established tribal treaty rights.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the secretary of state shall cause notice of this constitutional amendment to be published at least four times during the four weeks next preceding the election in every legal newspaper in the state.