Jessica R. Swan
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries recently completed its "Hunting with Hounds" Study.
Several people have been busy using the media as a bully pulpit, misrepresenting the purpose and issues, as well as making inaccurate statements regarding property rights and hunting.
They want to frighten you into believing that government is taking away your property rights, forcing you to allow ATV’s and recreation on your land, that all hunters are criminals, those that use dogs abuse or neglect them, and hunters deserve ridicule because they look or dress differently.
None of these claims is true.
It is time for facts.
There is no law permitting violation of property rights. To state otherwise is disingenuous.
Some editorials assert that 18.2-136 means a hunter's rights are superior to those of the landowner. This is a misreading of the wording and intent of the statute, as well as the state constitution.
Every state recognizes exceptions to trespass. In other states, similar laws permit farmers to retrieve loose livestock, permit retrieval of legally downed game, or permit collection of trash that has blown onto the land of another. Other states permit a person to retrieve a dog. There is nothing unusual or unconstitutional about these laws.
Exceptions to trespass involve exigencies — situations in which immediate action is required. To save a drowning child, to catch your dog that dashed out the door into your neighbor’s yard, to assist an animal in distress, to prevent an accident, to retrieve trash.
These are responsible and compassionate behavior, not criminal acts or recreation.
The exception need not be written into law to exist, though, like many other states, Virginia has a statute for one of them.
18.2-136 is an animal welfare law. It exists so a lawful hunter can immediately retrieve his hunting dog and prevent any harm to the dog, or annoyance to a landowner. The hunter must be unarmed, on foot, and must identify him or herself. Any other act is a crime.
The law is clear and is enforced, though some would have the public believe otherwise.
In Virginia, the landowner is protected from liability, and all civil remedies remain available to the landowner. No rights are infringed.
In a recent editorial, Mr. Don Marro asserted that the wildlife on his property belongs to him. He is incorrect.
In America, government holds wildlife in trust for the benefit of the public, not the wealthy elite.
Historically, wildlife was the sole property of the landowner. Since only the upper class owned land, they were the only ones that could legally hunt and fully participate in society and government.
English subjects, unable to improve their condition, became resentful of the upper classes. The class hatred exists to this day.
In the colonies, His Majesty’s policies were applied, creating discontent among colonists that resulted in the American Revolution.
Thanks to these men and women anyone can hunt in America. There is no class warfare, no "toffs,” no landed gentry. Bird watching, hiking, wildlife viewing, angling, and every form of hunting — the poor and rich are side by side as equals.
There are many peer-reviewed studies and literature on the use of dogs in hunting, hunting in general, and wildlife biology and management. The veterinary research on the care, behavior, feeding, training and welfare of the working dog is legion. Hunters gladly participate in this research and eagerly assist veterinarians and wildlife biologists. The results benefit all Americans.
The letters to the editor demonstrate ignorance of the ethics espoused by American sportsmen — by Theodore Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, and other visionaries. Sportsmen created fair chase and modern conservation. They know what comes of unregulated, nonselective, unethical hunting.
The North American wildlife conservation model is unique. Among its tenets is that wildlife management be based in sound science, and ethical conduct is paramount.
Modern sportsmen have codes of ethics, standards of conduct, and are vociferous advocates for conservation and animal welfare. Though they comprise a small percentage of the population, they are responsible for more than 100 years of funding for restoring and protecting land and wildlife.
Not everyone understands, or is willing to accept, that a tremendous amount of effort and training is required to hunt with a dog. Hunting with a dog can be very subtle, the nuances and complexity are often unseen by those unacquainted with hunting.
Other hunters prefer different methods. Many people choose not to hunt, or disapprove of hunting. Those who use a dog, hound, or raptor merely prefer a traditional approach.
All viewpoints warrant respect, and all can be accommodated in modern society.
What is unpardonable is the jeering, mocking and denigration of beliefs and traditions.
Those who disparage rural cultures will be embarrassed to learn that the United Nations disagrees.
This fall, U.N. and researchers concluded that as traditional and rural cultures disappear, the health of the surrounding ecosystem plummets. Biodiversity is required in man and nature for either to flourish.
The U.N. is addressing this issue and asks the scientific community to reach across disciplines working together to prevent extinctions.
Chief Seattle was right. All things are connected.
It’s unfortunate that some are willing to compromise the welfare of working dogs to further their personal agenda. It is impossible to remain silent when some attempt to garner support by misleading the public and equating lawful hunters to poachers, animal abusers, or other criminals.
The truth is, the vast majority of sportsmen are decent, ethical, law-abiding citizens. They respect property rights, obey laws, and care for their dogs.
Those that disobey laws are criminals. Treat them as such. Never equate them with hunters.
As a landowner, I do not consider a hunter retrieving his hound to be a "taking" of my property rights; his retrieval demonstrates respect for my property rights, and his devotion and love for his hound.
For the thousands of ethical sportsmen, who hunt with or without hounds, thanks for your sportsmanship, ethics, and your steadfast commitment to conservation.
Jessica R. Swan