The logic being used to ram several anti-hunting bills through the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee would suffice to ban all hunting rights of all kinds, and allow a small minority of partisan influencers to essentially erase state and federal constitutional guarantees. Instead of establishing why these laws should be enacted, revealing testimony by legal counsel for the anti-hunting crowd proves why they never should even have been drafted, let alone used to squander valuable legislative time.
It is axiomatic that any law passed must serve a legitimate state interest, and may not compromise established legal rights without showing a substantial governmental interest warranting that transgression. There are several anti-hunting bills being considered that do not even pretend to meet that burden.
Chuck Storrow, legal counsel for the anti-hunting block, revealed these serious flaws in his testimony on March 8, when he vaguely stammered a purported list of competing purposes for these bills, none of which passes constitutional muster. The sponsors of the bills do not state the purpose for which the bills are introduced, and do not cite authority to enact these laws at all.
S.129 cannot be justified constitutionally. Chuck Storrow explained outright the truth behind S.129: non-hunters want to ban hunting. It’s that simple — they seek to take control away from the trained professionals who won’t do what the coyote lovers demand. Attorney Storrow summarizes:
S. 129 is a reaction to the fact that the Board has consistently stiff-armed petitions to do things like establish a 5-month coyote hunting season as opposed to the current 365 days. Well-reasoned, well thought-out, presented petition. … [and there are] many other examples in that regard. So, there’s a lot of folks who’ve lost faith in the Board. It seems to be taking a narrow approach to only the consumptive issues of wildlife, and, you know, this bill’s a reaction to that. Beyond that it would lead to better governance. … Given the track record, it’s not working, [the bills’ supporters] feel, giving [the Board] that final authority because they just deny everything left, right and center that they feel encroaches on the right to do the things that are currently done out there in the field and a lot of those things are not going well with people, other Vermonters. It doesn’t take into account other viewpoints.
The translation of this paid attorney’s justification for S.129: people who find coyote hunting unpleasant seek to eliminate the professional, balanced Board so they can impose their personal animal rights activism (and property rights concoctions) on the administration of hunting laws. The sole purpose of S.129 is to circumvent wildlife professionals so special interest groups can impose their opinions in lieu.
Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor, has previously revealed the mixed bag of dysfunctions used to support these bills. Is “circumventing an agency we disagree with” a proper exercise of legislative authority? McCormack has weakly jabbed at “property rights” and “ethics,” but the statutes do not state what governmental purposes they serve, or by what legitimate exercise of constitutional power. If it is ethics, then neither the legal nor factual case has been presented. Property rights have not been clearly identified either, except those explained by Storrow as “notions”:
The notion that if someone has told you not to run hounds on their property and you can’t do that — you were going through this Senator Bray — so you have to know where these hounds are to go out and proactively say, ‘Look I don’t want you going out and hunting with dogs on my property.’ What’s gonna happen is you’ll discover hounds on your property and you will have that conversation, and maybe they will abide by it going forward, but they have already done it. The default rule should simply be don’t use hounds to chase coyotes, period. But short of that you should have written permission from any and all landowners that those hounds may go onto. There is no constitutional right to run those hounds everywhere, and if you can’t get their permission, tough. You need to control your hounds and you need to know where they are and you need to be in an area where they’re not going to be on people’s land without that written permission. And that’s just the way it is. There is no need to use hounds, period. There is no need to hunt coyotes to begin with.
Backed with eager assistance by Senator Bray, the sole “property argument” is that some people with posted land don’t like dogs running past their artificial human boundaries, and thus wish to ban all such hunting because dogs can’t be restrained. This is absurd: there are no actionable damages at law! Does everyone understand that clearly? Existing laws protect landowners, but one cannot sue or collect damages where there are none. Storrow and his bullying clients histrionically protest the moral annoyance that dogs walked on their posted land! That is the sum total (and travesty) of the so-called “property rights” argument.
In contrast, many very real property and hunting rights would be adversely impacted by this bill. Arguments against “harmless trespassing by benign hounds” are being leveraged to prevent Vermonters from hounding on their own large acreages, on unposted private lands, or in vast public wilderness areas conserved for the very purpose. Land ownership consists of one thing: the power to exclude others. Vermont is a proudly “open lands” state, where most Vermonters don’t post their lands because they believe in respecting these traditions. But elitists wish to control and exclude and “possess” their little slice of the Green Mountains, and now they seek to employ their little slices, their pathetic footholds in the wilderness that bewilders them, to ban everyone else from using their own property — even thousands of acres of unposted, and public, lands — so the petty elites don’t have to bear the intolerable nuisance of a commoner’s dog straying across their royal estates. They are openly violating basic constitutional precepts to do this, and their lawyer didn’t even try to hide it.
Yet more, attorney Storrow made bold claims that show his ignorance of the facts as well as the law. His “notions” include:
I don’t think the Vermont Constitution protects the right to use dogs to hunt, so the notion that you have a constitutional right to use dogs in connection with hunting. No. You have a right to hunt yourself as a human being on unposted property but that doesn’t include the right to use dogs. … Why are we hunting coyotes? They’re not hurting the deer herd. It’s just about shooting animals for the heck of it. So why are we countenancing that, much less running dogs on them?
So Attorney Storrow claims longstanding hunting freedoms are rights that must be extinguished because his clients don’t want non-harm to their land; moreover, he has decided that coyote hunting is wrong and should be banned regardless of what anyone else thinks. He countenances trampling Vermont constitutional liberties and basic procedural protections that were designed to prevent exactly this sort of government abuse. (In medieval times, the lords killed people for hunting on their estates because they valued game as food; these folks don’t want the peasants to hunt pheasants, even on their own plots.)
The Vermont Constitution guarantees hunting rights that include appurtenant necessaries such as dogs. Perhaps there is no right to a gun, or a trap, with which to hunt? But more, this overzealous attorney just stated on the record that all dog hunting must be banned — for the alleged “property right” of barring dogs, there is no distinction between using them for coyotes versus hunting rabbits, raccoons, bobcats, birds or bears.
The other slippery slope is that attorney Storrow just thinks coyote hunting is plain old wrong — likely he may think so about all types of hunting, and thus all hunting will be banned. (After all, he may decide the deer herd is “just fine.”) The sham process paraded through this committee on these bills is disgraceful. What is the shield against endless encroachments, if it is not the requirement that this Legislature demonstrate the constitutional authority and rationale for laws that impact existing citizens’ rights? S.129 and S.281 both lack these requisites.
S.129 exists to castrate the Fish & Wildlife Board because animal rights activists want to take over with undefined “non-consumptive” issues. In weak afterthought, proponents suggest that a handful of landowners who suffer no demonstrable economic damages should trump long-established hunting traditions secured in the Vermont Constitution: even hunters using their own lands. The economic loss of dogs, guns, traps, and land use — including prescriptive or express hunting easement rights in thousands of acres of public lands — will be destroyed without recompense.
These bills have been a waste of time. Food inflation rages and the economy crumbles, yet coyote hunting with dogs, a very rare activity that impacts very few people, is being elevated to front and center. The real agenda is clear, and will control all hunting and fishing practices, presumably with even less citizen input permitted than this Senate committee.
If these offensive bills are passed by the Legislature, the blueprint for Gov. Scott’s swift veto is in these paragraphs. If not, they will be challenged in a court of law, where the government will be compelled to prove the legitimate constitutional basis that these bills clearly lack. Important constitutional rights are at issue, and no property rights are threatened except those of sportsmen. Passing bills because special interest groups seek to unilaterally control all rights will hardly pass constitutional muster.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield. © Copyright True North Reports 2022. All rights reserved.