Remember the “deer dog” case?
This is the one where several families were having their lives disrupted because a group of hunters in the Panhandle was allowing hounds-in-pursuit-of-deer to trample across private property.
It’s a quirky case. The Blackwater Wildlife Management Area (BWMA) is managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) and, for historical reasons, several landowners live within its borders. These landowners have what are known as “outparcels” and some are as large as 65 acres.
So each fall, the FWCC allows the practice of deer dog hunting. A practice where “hunters” let loose a pack of ravenous dogs to pursue unwary deer. The hunters hang out near their trucks while the dogs rustle up the prey.
While not my cup of tea, it is apparently quite popular within the BWMA and has been going on for years. The problem comes however when the dogs, who understandably don’t know how to read “no trespassing” signs, come charging onto private property. These dogs, as you can imagine, cause quite a stir.
So what is a state agency to do?
In the past, the FWCC has blocked certain areas from this kind of hunting to protect and respect the rights of the property owners who live within its borders. That makes sense.
But for some unknown reason, the FWCC simply refused to hear the pleas of about a half-dozen families whose lives were severely disrupted, whose property was damaged and the families themselves were at times in a genuine – and understandable – state of terror. (Oh wait, the FWCC did laughably require the dogs to wear shocking collars as a supposed deterrent. Now I’m no Cesar Millan, but I’m going to venture a guess that a dog in hot pursuit of prey isn’t going to respond all that well to a small electronic shock and the evidence presented suggests I am pretty close in my assessment.)
The dispute could not be resolved out of court, so the private property owners in question filed suit in Circuit Court and last week, the Honorable Karen Gievers offered what can only be described as a judicial beat down of the FWCC.
In a scathing 42-page opinion, Gievers basically told the FWCC to get its act together, respect the rights of the property owners and find a way to ensure the safety and privacy of those private landowners who deserve to be left alone. She also agreed to consider damages for the state’s improper taking of land and held that this conduct constituted a legal “nuisance” potentially worthy of damages.
While the lawyers for the FWCC tried to make separation of powers and other procedural arguments, the judge would have none of it.
So now the case is going to court for damages. The next phase will determine what damages the private property owners are owed for the unlawful taking of their property by the FWCC.
And the judge?
The Honorable Karen Gievers.
This won’t be pretty.