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    Maine high court’s right to food decision protects legal hunting

    By V. Paul Reynolds, Outdoors in Maine,


    Maine voters approved an historic state constitutional amendment that established a right to food on Nov. 3, 2021. Not unexpectedly, a debate ensued about the word “harvest,” which is used in the language of the new amendment.

    The debate focused on the question: Does that constitutional word “harvest” include recreational hunting?

    Obviously, those of us in the hunting community who place great value on our legacy in Maine and our right to hunt, assumed that, yes, Maine now has within its state constitution a provision that safeguards hunting.

    A number of other states have in the past few years taken action to embed a similar right to hunt in their state constitutions: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana and Kansas. Florida will vote on such a provision this year.

    In Vermont, the right to hunt has been included in its state constitution since 1777.

    But all is not gold that glitters. In an effort to thwart a legal effort by a Readfield couple to use the Right to Food amendment to overturn Maine’s ban on Sunday hunting, the state of Maine argued that, in fact, the new amendment did not grant constitutional protection to hunt in our state.

    Although the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled against the Readfield couple, and held that the Sunday hunting ban was not contrary to the amendment, the court, to its credit, held that the amendment DOES protect legal hunting.

    In other words, the hunting community was right: for purposes of the constitutional amendment, as voted by Maine residents in the 2021 referendum, the constitutional word “harvest” includes hunting.

    If you are a hunter, or if you simply agree that hunting is a worthy legacy, this decision by the Maine high court is a landmark ruling.

    Break out the champagne and take the time to thank the Readfield couple, Virginia and Joel Parker, without whose valiant efforts, the unanswered legal question would have lingered.

    The Parkers fought hard to defeat the Sunday hunting ban, and Maine remains one of only two states in the country with that law. If the past is prologue, we have not heard the last of this issue, which crops up almost annually in the legislative halls of Augusta.

    No doubt the Parkers are disappointed by the court decision, but whether they foresaw this silver lining or not, they left a mark and made a difference, even in defeat.

    In the context of this court decision, which partly rebukes the state’s position that hunting was not protected by the food amendment, a tangential question remains unaddressed or unanswered.

    Since the Parker’s lawsuit challenged the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Sunday hunting ban, and since the high court ruled that the Right to Food amendment does not protect illegal hunting, why wasn’t this the more narrow focus of the state’s legal argument?

    Apparently, the state adopted a sweeping legal offense and sought to uphold the Sunday hunting ban by arguing that the constitutional word “harvest” does not include hunting at all.

    Wittingly or unwittingly, the state attorney general and our fisheries and wildlife folks were party to a legal position that could have opened a Pandora’s box, and left our hunting legacy with no constitutional safeguards whatsoever.

    Unless we are missing something, the state was so eager to protect the Sunday ban that it was willing to expose the constitutional protection of hunting to a stunning defeat.

    V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network.

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