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 startled by the sound of 20 hunting dogs barking and howling, while they surrounded their homes and hunted their chickens.
When Medeiros confronted a nearby hunter, the man told him he had permission to hunt on Medeiros’ property. Incredibly, Medeiros called the agency, which enforces a state law that allows hunters to retrieve their hunting dogs from private property, even when the owners object.
“He told me you can not ban people from coming to your country,” Medeiros recalls.
He then pointed out that his place was posted with no sign of intrusion.
“I said, ‘You do not understand. My country is shown off, Medeiros said.
“You do not understand,” the official replied. “You can not stop them.”
After years of enduring barking dogs and dead chickens, Medeiros and several other owners are suing the state for its ‘right to scour’ law, arguing that allowing hunters to enter their property without permission is tantamount to a grab without compensation for their land. and violates state and federal constitutions.
A number of states allow hunters to pick up their dogs without the owners’ permission under certain circumstances, such as properties that do not have “no intrusion” signs. But Virginia law says hunters are allowed to retrieve dogs even when the owner has specifically denied entry.
A 2016 report prepared by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (now the Department of Wildlife Resources) said only one other state, Minnesota, had a similar law. Minnesota law states that a person may enter private property to retrieve a hunting dog without the owner’s permission, but must not carry a firearm when doing so, and must leave the dog immediately upon retrieval.
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 landmark lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court last year. The High Court found that a California ordinance requiring farm workers to give work organizers access to their property for up to three hours a day, 120 days a year, equates to the government granting “a right to” access to private property “and “constitutes a physical act ‘under the precedent.
Daniel Woislaw, a lawyer at the Pacific Legal Foundation, said he believed Virginia’s “right to reclaim” law was similar to a similar physical seizure of private property.
“When Jim has to let deer dogs and deer dog hunters into his property and he must not ask them to stay away, and when they kill his livestock and disrupt his operations, it is a valuable property interest,” Woislaw says.
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 owns eight hunting dogs and is general manager of the 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 pick up their dogs when crossing private property.
“Many people who come here from other states are offended by the idea of hunting with dogs, so when a dog crosses their property, they become offended, and I understand that well, but I think the vast majority of hunters with dogs trying in every way they can to avoid annoying their neighbors, ”said Burch, 75, who has been hunting with dogs since he was 5 years old.
Burch’s group estimates that more than half of Virginia’s 254,000 licensed hunters hunt with dogs.
The lawsuit asks the court for a verdict declaring that the law takes the plaintiffs’ private property without compensation for public use, a violation of the state constitution and the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Several attempts were made within the Legislative Assembly to overturn the law, but none succeeded.
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 coexist mostly peacefully, but as more rural areas developed and Virginia became more suburban, the two groups disagreed on the issue of hunting dogs.
“Both sides of the debate have their own interests, where hunters are very interested in protecting their hunting dogs, and property owners are interested in protecting their rights as landowners,” Brown said.
“Both sides have been very passionate about their views.”