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Hunting continued to be a hot topic in the Nevada Legislature this week as testimony was taken on a bid to enshrine the right to hunt, fish and trap in the state constitution.

Such amendments need to be approved twice by the Legislature before going on the ballot. Last session’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed the joint resolution but its fate is less certain under this session’s Democrat-controlled body.

Plenty of voices were heard on both sides of the issue, which largely follows a political divide just as other wildlife-related measures including the predator control fee changes supported by rural lawmakers.

SJR 11 is sponsored by four Republican senators, including Pete Goicoechea of Eureka. The goal is to protect a way of life that rural Nevadans have taken for granted for generations. It’s a lifestyle that is increasingly coming under fire on both the state and national level.

Sportsmen and wildlife advocates both have strong lobbying power. The biggest area of concern — and the group with the least influence — is the trappers.

Last week a bill to ban trapping on all National Wildlife Refuges was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The “Refuge From Cruel Trapping Act,” H.R. 1438, is sponsored by 60 Democratic congressmen, including Nevada’s Dina Titus.

“We must restore the true meaning of ‘refuge’ to the National Wildlife Refuge System,” states primary sponsor Nita Lowey of New York. “Each year, thousands of bobcats, otters, foxes, beavers, and other wild animals are trapped in violent body-gripping traps within the National Wildlife Refuges, where they endure hours or days of excruciating pain. These devices are indiscriminate, and often endangered species and pets are brutally wounded by them.”

Opponents have an entirely different view.

“Despite the lofty rhetoric and misleading statements, the National Wildlife Refuge System was not designed to be sanctuary for animals; instead, it was specifically designed to include hunting, fishing and trapping,” stated an alert posted this week by Sportsmen’s Alliance, a group started 40 years ago in Ohio in response to some of the nation’s first anti-trapping proposals.

The group points out that Congress approved the National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act in 1997, “which identified hunting, which includes trapping, as a priority use of refuge land.” That law was signed by President Bill Clinton. “In addition, trapping is an effective tool for controlling predators, which can negatively impact other wildlife on refuge lands,” the group added.

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Here in Nevada, some groups consider trapping not only to be inhumane, but also a threat to people and pets. They cite a limited number of cases where such injuries have occurred, out of the 4 million or so animals that are trapped each year in the U.S.

Will anti-trapping sentiment be strong enough to derail Nevada’s proposal?

Sportsmen’s Alliance points out that trapping has a useful purpose, including on refuge land. “HR 1438 would put a one-size-fits-all federal ban in place for refuges rather than allow state biologists do what is best for individual refuge properties,” stated the group.

Many wildlife advocates oppose killing animals for any reason, even in humane instances, including efforts to trap horses that are dying of thirst on the range. Hunters and trappers have a broader perspective, and they tried to get their views across at this week’s hearing.

“Sportsmen spend more time on preserving wildlife than anyone,” testified Henry Krenka of the Nevada Outfitters and Guides Association “Fishing and hunting have been a part of Nevada since day one.”

More than 20 states already guarantee the right to hunt and fish in their constitutions. It’s time for Nevada to join them.

Members of the Elko Daily Free Press editorial board are Travis Quast, Jeffry Mullins and Marianne Kobak McKown.

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