Conservation group pressures lawmakers over right to hunt

Iowa, Florida, Ohio and South Dakota are the group’s first targets.
Two people walk their dogs at the Chagrin Valley Polo Field, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, in Hunting Valley, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

A conservation nonprofit organization run by a veteran conservative strategist will kick off a new six-figure digital ad campaign Wednesday pressuring lawmakers in four red states to add right-to-hunt provisions to their state constitutions.

The International Order of T. Roosevelt, a 501(c)(3) group based in Scottsdale, will launch the ad campaign in Iowa, Florida, Ohio and South Dakota, according to plans shared first with Pluribus News. 

All four states have Republican governors and large Republican majorities in both chambers of their respective legislatures.

Luke Hilgemann, who runs the group after a tenure at Americans for Prosperity, said in an interview Tuesday that the number of hunters and fisherman has declined in recent decades, and the slide threatens conservation funds, which are generated through fees for hunting and fishing licenses. 

Hilgeman said that “enshrining these protections in state constitutions” would help stem the tide and continue funneling conservation dollars where needed.

The ad says that “hunters contribute $9.4 million per day to fund conservation in America. Without hunters, American conservation is in peril.”

Hilgemann also said adding amendments would notch a symbolic victory against those critical of hunting, such as the Humane Society of the United States, PETA and the Animal Defense Fund.

“Those are three of the top anti-hunting groups in the country,” Hilgemann said. “Each one of them has a multi-million-dollar budget, and their top stated goal is to see the end of hunting. And we see this as a real threat to the outdoors and to the traditions that hunting and fishing have brought since the beginning of time.”

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, annual hunting and fishing licenses peaked at 16.7 million in 1982. In 2020 there were 15.2 million hunters in the U.S.

Twenty-three states currently have right-to-hunt language in their constitutions. Hilgeman  believes the four states his group is targeting are the likeliest to adopt legislation, typically required in the state constitutional amendment process.

“We believe that there are strong opportunities here, based on the majorities that exist, both in the legislature and the governor’s mansions in these states, ” Hilgemann said.

Republicans have expanded their majorities in Iowa, Florida and Ohio and maintained a robust majority in South Dakota following the 2022 election.

No bills have been introduced yet, but Hilgemann said he has talked with lawmakers and has gotten a positive response.

“There’s been discussions and there’s nothing that’s been done yet,” Hilgemann said. “We need to lock down these traditions before they’re gone.”

Vermont was the first state to add a right to hunt in its state constitution in 1777, according to Ballotpedia. The other 22 states have adopted the right-to-hunt and fish amendments since 1996. California and Rhode Island have right-to-fish amendments to their constitutions but not the right to hunt.

Update: The International Order of T. Roosevelt identifies as a conservation organization.