Iowa Supreme Court Shoots Down Hunting Rights

Iowa Supreme Court Shoots Down Hunting Rights

State Supreme Court says landownership does not include right to hunt.

The Iowa Supreme Court has upheld Iowa's hunting laws with a ruling last week that says just because someone owns land in Iowa it doesn't mean they have a right to hunt on it. In a decision handed down on December 6 the court said Iowa's laws that provide hunting advantages to permanent residents do not violate the constitutional rights of nonresident landowners.

Three men who own land in Iowa but have permanent homes in other states challenged Iowa's hunting laws as unconstitutional claiming the law discriminates against nonresident landowners. The men objected to Iowa laws that make more hunting licenses available to permanent residents at a lower price.

HUNTING LAWS UPHELD: The Iowa Supreme Court last week upheld Iowa's law regulating hunting licenses. The law favors Iowa residents when getting a license. People who own land in Iowa but live out of state aren't always able to get a license to hunt on it. Out-of-state applicants enter a lottery when they apply; and have to pay a higher price than permanent residents for a license.

The Supreme Court ruling last week says Iowa lawmakers have developed a system of hunting laws that results in the conclusion "that land ownership in Iowa is not accompanied by the right to hunt on one's own land."

Iowa's hunting laws favor residents over nonresidents in getting a license to hunt in Iowa

You have certain rights when you own property, whether you are a resident or a nonresident, explains Joe Wilkinson, an official with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in Des Moines. The court ruled that one of those rights is not the right to hunt.

The DNR only grants a certain number of licenses per year. The law favors Iowa residents when getting a license. Out-of-state residents (even if they own land in Iowa) are thrown into a lottery when they apply for a license. Thus, people who own land in Iowa but live out of state aren't always able to get a license to hunt on it. Out-of-state applicants who do end up lucky enough to get a license to hunt in Iowa have to pay a higher price than permanent residents for a license. That's another part of the law that irks nonresidents who want to hunt here, especially those who own land in Iowa.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

Iowa is among the states that have the least amount of publicly owned land in the nation. Without much public land to hunt, and a lot of private land being bought up by people living out of state, it's become a lot harder for hunters within Iowa to hunt. Without much public land, hunters depend on private landowners giving them permission to hunt. If the landowner isn't around to grant permission, or if the landowner charges a big fee to hunt on his land, hunters lose out.

An interesting conclusion by Iowa Supreme Court: a landowner apparently has no greater fundamental right to hunt than a non-landowner

Of course, people who are nonresidents of Iowa but who own land here aren't very happy with this Dec. 6 Supreme Court decision.

"The key point is the court said that the right to hunt is not one of the 'sticks' in the bundle of rights known as property rights," says Roger McEowen, professor of ag law and director of the Center for Ag Law and Taxation at Iowa State University. "That's a rather interesting conclusion; the Iowa Supreme Court says landownership does not include the right to hunt."

McEowen and the staff attorney at CALT, Kristine Tidgren, have written about this ruling on their website. Here are some of their observations:

A landowner apparently has no greater fundamental right to hunt than a non-landowner. Also, it does not appear that courts will find that constitutional parameters restrain states from restricting hunting rights or discriminating between residents and nonresidents in granting these rights.

It is difficult to understand Iowa's legitimate interest in preventing the "nonresident" landowners in this case from hunting their own property in the same manner as resident landowners. These landowners shared in the burdens of landownership (paying property taxes and even income taxes to the State of Iowa) but were deprived of the benefit of hunting their land without severe restriction.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

Nor do the restrictions as applied to these landowners advance the oft-cited purposes for nonresident hunting restrictions: preventing overhunting and precluding those who do not support wildlife management with their tax dollars from sharing in the bounty. These restrictions also place a strange burden upon nonresident landowners from neighboring states who own Iowa property adjoining their land. Instead of having the freedom to hunt their entire parcel, they are constrained by the invisible stateline.

In response to concerns regarding threatened hunting rights, a number of states have in recent years passed constitutional amendments preserving citizens' rights to hunt and fish. Given the ever-changing climate surrounding the issue of hunting rights, this trend will likely continue.

Note: The case is Democko, et al. v. Iowa Dep't of Natural Resources., No. 12-1944, 2013 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 125 (Iowa Sup. Ct. Dec. 6, 2013).

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