In Michigan a little over a year ago, hunters and fishermen became worried about something they dubbed the Bambi Effect.
Research had shown that Michigan's increasingly urbanized young people were spending less time in the great outdoors, and more time camped in front of the TV. What if these people grew up to become anti-hunting and fishing activists? Clearly something had to be done.
The solution was a statewide education program for elementary children that would encourage them to take advantage of Michigan's park system, and show them how hunting and fishing was an important part of the state's culture and heritage. But before they settled on a beaver cartoon character to feature in the program, they wanted to make sure the Bambi Effect wouldn't backfire on them.
The Bambi Effect? That's a cute little cartoon animal character with big brown eyes like Bambi could actually cause the children to sympathize with the animals and fish and not the hunters and fishermen.
Michigan's equivalent of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission authorized one of the state's universities to conduct a study of the Bambi Effect. Only when that study disproved the possible backlash did the education initiative proceed.
What does this story have to do with Arizona? Those who oppose Proposition 102, which will appear on the November ballot, believe similar logic is at work among the proponents of that wildlife management initiative.
Proposition 102, which was placed on the ballot by the state legislature, mandates that the state manage wildlife as a public trust. Most everybody believes that is a good thing.
But it also requires a two-thirds vote on any future initiative that permits, limits or prohibits the taking of wildlife, including the methods or seasons. That is where the battle lines are drawn.
One of the primary proponents of Proposition 102 is a Phoenix-based nonprofit organization called Arizonans for Wildlife Conservation (AWC). Mike Hull of Phoenix, a spokesperson for that group, pointed out that the initiative, patterned after one that was approved in Utah in 1998, "will make it more difficult for animal rights and anti-hunting activists to use the initiative process to restrict or ban the hunting of particular species and otherwise manage Arizona's wildlife at the ballot box."
AWC said it worked to get the question on the ballot with the specific goal of preserving "the hunting and fishing heritage of Arizona's sportsmen and women and to protect Arizona's wildlife resource."
Preserve and protect from whom? AWC points out that Arizona will double in population in the next 20 years, and that "most new growth will occur in urban areas, creating more challenges to our hunting and fishing heritage."
AWC is also worried about "radical out-of-state animal-rights groups" that have tried to impose their will on Arizona before. "There is every reason to believe they will do so again," Hull said.
The opposition is led by the Arizona Humane Society, although spokesperson Kim Noetzel says there are several animal welfare organizations opposed to Proposition 102. "Why? Because it's a deceptive measure that is cleverly disguised as a 'wildlife conservation' measure," Noetzel said.
Ken White, chairman of NO ON 102, cautions voters not to be fooled. "Clearly, Prop 102 discriminates against citizens who want a say in whether wildlife is being treated unfairly or inhumanely," he said. "It silences their voices at the ballot box; what's more, it takes power from the people and hands it over to politicians and their appointees; bureaucrats; lobbyists and special-interest groups."
But White said Proposition 102 is more than an assault on Arizona wildlife. "It's bad for wildlife," he said, "and it's a threat to democracy.
"Why should any ballot issue require a 'super-majority' to pass? By definition, democracy is 'government by the people, especially rule of the majority.,' "he said. "By definition, majority rule is 'constituted by 50 percent plus 1.'"
AWC begs to differ. In fact, according to Hull, it's the opponents of 102 who are threatening your rights. "If Prop 102 does not pass," he said, "there will be continual attempts to restrict hunting and fishing in this state. Prop 102 provides insulation from emotional attempts at the ballot box to destroy an important part of our Western heritage."
To counter this argument, White turns the clock back to 1994 when a citizens' initiative banning the use of steel-jaw leg-hold traps on public lands passed with 58 percent of the vote. "If Prop 102 had been in place then, the initiative would have failed because it did not garner a two-thirds 'super majority,' said White. "The will of the people would have been overruled, and countless animals would still suffer and die in agony."
AWC answers that nobody is trying to take anybody's vote away. "We should keep politics out of wildlife management and let professionals do their job effectively," said Hull.
Proposition 102 was one of four initiatives challenged in court for violating a rule that amendments to the state constitution must stick to one subject. The Arizona Supreme Court dismissed the challenge on the grounds that it was filed too late for adequate consideration.
Here in the Rim country Emily and Bob DePugh head up the local chapter of AWC. "Game and Fish has managed our wildlife in an excellent manner, so we think they should continue to do that as a trust for the people," Emily said.
A local AWC fund-raiser held on Aug. 26 attracted 175 supporters, she added.
The Payson Humane Society declined to comment, deferring instead to the Arizona Humane Society. "We don't get involved in that kind of stuff," a spokesperson said.
Local political activist Ruby Finney was not so reticent. "I am absolutely not in favor of 102," Finney said. "It's stupid, and I know where it came from.
"It came from those special predator hunts, which are nothing but killathons. I'm not going to give up my initiative rights on a two-thirds vote."
With such strong local opinions on both sides of Proposition 102, we can only hope that when the Sawmill Crossing cineplex opens on Nov. 3 just four days before the election, "Bambi" isn't showing on one of its six screens.