In a ruling likely to provide a national precedent, the Virginia Supreme Court in mid-July upheld a lower court’s ruling that bowhunting is a safe, science-based tool of wildlife management, and that local authorities cannot stop citizens from bowhunting deer on their property when hunting itself is a right conferred by the state’s Constitution.
After being alerted to the dispute by Suburban Whitetail Management of Northern Virginia (SWMNV), the Archery Trade Association (ATA) brought legal action against the Reston Homeowners Association in January 2007. ATA won the case in Fairfax County court in December 2007, as well as its request to recover more than $50,000 in legal fees.
As a result, bowhunters are returning to Reston’s woodlots. “This important precedent for bowhunters and homeowners wouldn’t have happened without the ATA,” Eric Huppert, president of SWMNV, said. “The ATA took on the fight on behalf of property owners and bowhunters. Homeowners in Fairfax County now know there’s a safe, court-approved, scientific way to solve deer-damage problems in suburbs.”
Jay McAninch, the ATA’s President/CEO, said the victory’s importance has national significance because it strongly endorses Virginia’s right-to-hunt Constitutional amendment and the state’s wildlife-management program that relies on bowhunting in urban areas. McAninch said the Virginia Supreme Court reinforces four critical points:
-- First, bowhunting in urban areas can be done safely without harming people or property.
-- Second, individual property owners can use bowhunters to address their deer-damage and nuisance problems.
-- Third, wildlife is a public resource that’s held in trust and managed for the public’s benefit.
-- And four, individuals or a homeowners’ association cannot usurp local or state authority, or use the courts to shut down or interfere with a legitimate bowhunting program.
“When people or groups violate these historical, well-established lines of authority and take actions based on personal opinions, it’s going to cost them,” McAninch said.
The ruling caps a long-running legal dispute that began in 2005 when homeowners in nearby McLean, Virginia, got a court injunction to shut down a bowhunting program run by the SWMNV. With the ATA’s help, a local judge tossed out the McLean injunction and bowhunters returned to the woods.
Bob Duncan, executive director of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said it’s difficult to overstate the victory’s importance. “Virginia has 7.1 million people, with urban folks moving into suburban and rural areas with little knowledge of wildlife management or bowhunting’s safety record,” Duncan said. “We can now point to this benchmark ruling and say, ‘Before you try to outlaw bowhunting and demonize it, realize it’s a vital part of Virginia’s game-management program and it’s protected in our state Constitution."