Private owners sue Virginia hunting dog law – Reuters

WILSONS, Va. (AP)-Shortly after Jim Medeiros bought his 143-acre (58-acre) cattle and poultry farm in rural Virginia a decade ago, he and his wife were shocked by the sounds of 20 dogs. hunting howls and howls as they surround their house and chase their chickens.

When Medeiros confronted a nearby hunter, the man told him he had permission to hunt on Medeiros’s property. Unbelievably, Medeiros called on the agency to enforce a state law that allows hunters to take their hunting dogs from private property, even if owners object.

“He told me, you can’t stop people from coming to your land,” Medeiros recalls.

He then pointed out that his pitch was posted with no signs of violation.

“I said, ‘You don’t understand. It shows my land,'” Medeiros said.

“You don’t understand,” the officer replied. “You can’t stop them.”

After years of enduring old dogs and dead chickens, Medeiros and other owners are suing the state over the ‘right to scavenge’ law, arguing that allowing hunters on their property without permission is the same as looting. and violates the state and federal constitution.

Many states allow hunters to capture their dogs without the owners ’permission under certain circumstances, such as properties with no“ no violation ”signs. But Virginia law says hunters are allowed to take dogs even if the owner specifically denies access.

A 2016 report prepared by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (now the Department of Wildlife Resources), states that only one state, Minnesota, has the same law. Minnesota law says a person may enter private property to retrieve a hunting dog without the owner’s permission, but may be unarmed if they do so and must leave immediately. if you get the dog.

Virginia landowners are suing the Department of Wildlife Resources, which enforces the law. They are represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative legal organization that won a major property rights lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court last year. The Supreme Court found that a California regulation that obligates agricultural companies to allow labor organizers access to their property for up to three hours a day, 120 days a day. years, equivalent to the government applying for “a right to‘ access private property ’and‘ constitute. a physical act ’under court precepts.

Daniel Woislaw, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, says he believes the “right of recovery” in Virginia law is equivalent to the same physical seizure of private property.

“If Jim has to let deerhound and deerhound hunters into his property, and he won’t be allowed to tell them to stay away, and if they kill his livestock and interfere with his operation, it’s a valuable acquisition. property interest, ”Woislaw said.

The law itself was first published in 1938, but the tradition of hunting with dogs dates back 400 years to colonial times, said Kirby Burch, a bear hunter who owned eight hunting dogs. and is the general manager of Virginia Hunting Dog. Alliance, a political action committee representing about 90,000 hunters in the state. Burch said most hunters try to be respectful of landowners and quickly retrieve their dogs when crossing private property.

“A lot of people who come here from other states are offended by the idea of ​​hunting with dogs, so if a dog crosses their property, they get hurt, and I understand that, but I think most of the hunters have Dogs try in every way they can to not annoy their neighbors, ”said Burch, 75, who has been hunting dogs since he was 5 years old.

Burch’s group estimates that more than half of Virginia’s 254,000 licensed hunters are looking for dogs.

The lawsuit asks the court for a ruling stating that the law took the plaintiffs ’private property free of charge for public use, a violation of the state constitution and the Fifth Constitutional Amendment. in the US.

Several attempts have been made within the legislature to overturn the law, but none have been successful.

Ryan Brown, executive director of the Department of Wildlife Resources, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Brown said hunters and private landowners were able to get along most peacefully, but as more rural land developed and Virginia became more suburban, the two groups clashed over the issue of hunting. of dogs.

“Both sides of the debate have interests, with hunters very interested in protecting their hunting dogs and property owners interested in protecting their rights as landowners,” he said. according to Brown.

“Both sides are very enthusiastic about their views.”

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