LINCOLN, Neb. - Sen. Ben Nelson visited a wildlife area Monday to tout his bill meant to preserve the right of states to set hunting and fishing regulations.
"There's enough work in Washington for the feds to do," Nelson said Monday during a stop near Branched Oak Lake. "They don't need to start getting involved in pheasant and deer."
Nelson and fellow Democrat Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada are co-sponsoring a bill to ensure that states have the right to make their own hunting and fishing laws.
The bill, which is before the Senate Judiciary Committee, was prompted by a 2002 ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said Arizona's 1991 law allotting just 10 percent of bull elk and antlered-deer hunting tags to nonresidents was an act of "overt discrimination."
The San Francisco-based court added that such discrimination was an unconstitutional restriction on interstate commerce for hunters wanting to sell antlers and other animal parts.
The court said states were not free to discriminate solely on the basis of residency.
The Arizona case was filed by three New Mexico outfitters who have since accused Nevada of discriminating against nonresidents when issuing big-game hunting permits.
"I'm not aware that the interstate commerce clause has ever been interpreted to pre-empt the rights of states to pass their own hunting and fishing laws and promulgate their own rules," Nelson said.
Rex Amack, director of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, agreed.
"From the very beginning, with the public trust doctrine of managing wildlife in the United States of America, it's always been a state's right to manage those wildlife species without any other intrusion," he said. "It's basically a state's rights-local control issue."
Nebraska and most states charge much more for nonresident licenses than resident licenses. In Nebraska, for example, a deer license is $175 for a nonresident compared to $25 for a resident. Nebraska also limits the number of nonresident permits for hunting elk and antelope, Amack said.
Nelson said if the court ruling is allowed to stand, state's should expect more federal intrusion into the wildlife arena.
"If they take away the rights of the states to establish their own regulations, how long does it take for the next action to take your ability to distinguish between fees or the number of birds that can be shot or anything else?" Nelson said. "The last thing in the world you need is the federal government stepping into this."