Kentucky is the ‘Happy Hunting Ground’

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By Rick Rand

With Labor Day in our rear-view mirror, and hopefully the brutally hot weather as well, most of us are understandably looking forward to fall.

Interests may range from football to festivals, but getting ready for hunting season or casting a line in the nearest lake or river ranks high on the list for many.  Native Americans called Kentucky the Happy Hunting Ground for a reason, and now more than ever, there is no shortage of people who love getting outdoors.

Proof of that can be found in the nearly one million licenses sold for sporting activities last year, a number that doesn’t include children who are exempt or those who legally hunt or fish on their own property.

According to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, these outdoor sports bring in a significant amount of money into our economy.  Those visiting from other states alone account for more than $100 million each year.

Wildlife-related recreation supports nearly 34,000 jobs, and more Kentuckians hunt and fish than play golf and tennis combined.

In an effort to preserve the rights of those who want to see that outdoor spirit maintained for generations to come, many of my colleagues in the Kentucky House of Representatives and I are supporting a constitutional amendment that would give voters the opportunity to enshrine these rights in Kentucky’s constitution.

This legislation, unveiled last week in the House chamber, will be discussed during the 2011 Regular Session, and would be on the ballot in November 2012 if it passes the legislature.

If approved, it would have no effect on current laws that regulate hunting and fishing, such as length of seasons or licensing requirements.  It would, however, re-affirm their importance by adding another layer of protection that applies statewide.

This amendment mirrors similar constitutional language already found in a dozen other states, and four more, including Tennessee, could be added this fall if voters agree.  That’s likely to not be a problem; in Oklahoma’s case, for example, the amendment drew the support of 80 percent of those voting.

While it may have been quite some time since most families had to depend on hunting and fishing for their next meal, these activities still play crucial roles in our lives by helping to keep the populations of certain species in proper balance while also preserving a significant amount of land for generations to come.

With the aid of license fees, the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is able to either own or help maintain well over a half-million acres while stocking our lakes, rivers and streams with about four million fish each year.

Hunters, meanwhile, continue to see strong results.  There are expected to be about 120,000 deer harvested this year, and the 36,000 wild turkeys taken during the 23-day spring season was 24 percent higher than in 2009.  That number would have been even higher if not for a period of poor weather.

It has been a dozen years since Kentucky re-introduced elk within its borders, and now their numbers are estimated at 10,000.  This growth has proven to be especially popular among hunters, since about 45,000 people from across the country apply for the 800 to 1,000 permits the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources now makes available each year.

For those who may need two more examples that hunting and fishing is popular here, consider that “Kentucky Afield,” which began in 1953, is the nation’s longest-running outdoor show and the Department’s “Archery in the Schools” program can now be found in 850 schools, giving our students a wonderful opportunity to learn a sport that rewards patience and poise.

I will of course keep you updated on the progress of our constitutional amendment once the legislative session begins.  In the meantime, if you have any thoughts about this or other issues involving state government, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  Should you want to write, my address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181.  For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.