Friday, January 27, 2012

The Virginia Farm Bureau and Sunday Hunting - What they Say, What it Means

Seem ridiculous? The VA and PA Farm Bureaus
 think that the government should decide whether
you can hunt on your own farm
during normal hunting hours and seasons.
As many of you know, I've been engaged in the Sunday hunting debate in both Pennsylvania and Virginia - I hunt in both states, but less than I would if Sunday hunting were legal.   This week, legislation to partially roll back Virginia's Sunday Hunting Ban was advanced through a Senate by a surprisingly wide margin and diverse bipartisan vote.  The Senate version, SB 464, was approved by a  2:1 margin by the entire Senate on Thursday.  This is a tiny piece of history.  

With passage by the House of Delegates a distinct possibility, the opposition to Sunday hunting has started up their PR machine once again. For the first time in 30 years, they appear to be startled (or even shocked) that as a result of factual lawmaker and constituent education by the proponents of Sunday hunting rights (who, of course, include Virginia Governor McDonnell, Lieutenant Governor Bolling, Attorney General Cuccinelli, and the Virginia Department of Game), the issue has gotten positive traction from urban, rural, and suburban lawmakers who are Black, White, Republican, and Democrat, and who come from all over the state.   They include hunters and non-hunters alike, fiscal conservatives and green liberals. 

The most organized and influential group seeking to keep the ban in place, and place constitutional landowner rights (hunting is an expressed constitutional right in Virginia) in the hands of state government, is the Virginia Farm Bureau, who recently put out a new press release on the topic.  Feel free to read.  That the press release was light on factual information does not surprise most hunters, wildlife biologists, or even a certain number of Farm Bureau members.  What has surprised us is that three (at last count) small town newspapers have crafted their own editorials, strongly opposing sunday hunting, based almost wholly on statements derived from VFB's press release.  So what's in this press release, and what does it mean?  

The original text of the press release (again, unlike those who support the ban, I encourage you to read the dissenting opinion, and the legislation itself, and not just take my word for it), is linked in the previous paragraph, and is in regular type below.  My response, or additional questions, are highlighted in blue.

VFB: Allowing Sunday hunting would create a lose-lose situation for Virginia citizens, and the state’s largest farm advocacy group continues to oppose it. “Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, through its grassroots policy process, opposes hunting on Sunday,” said Wilmer Stoneman, VFBF associate director of governmental relations.

First, let's ignore the overly dramatic "lose-lose" opener.  During last year's legislative sessions (VA, PA) , Farm Bureau spokespeople repeatedly suggested that the Bureau chapters in those states oppose Sunday hunting based on polling of members.  However, as Virginia Farm Bureau members continue to come forward to say, "No one ever polled me," VFB has walked that proclamation back quite a bit, now stating that their "grassroots policy process" is the basis for their support of the ban.  During several days of hunting in southside Virginia this season, I met many landowners and farmers.  Many favored Sunday hunting.  Some strongly opposed it. Quite a few had mixed feelings, and wanted more information about it. Some were Farm Bureau members.

But none of them told me they'd been asked (by the Farm Bureau) for their opinion on sunday hunting, at least in recent years.  In fact, I've yet to meet even one Farm Bureau member who was contacted for their input as part of the development of Farm Bureau policy for either 2011 or 2012.  So what is this "grassroots policy process?"  Perhaps VFB just hasn't gotten around to sharing the details.  Perhaps.  I could give you some theories and wild predictions, as the VFB press release does, but I don't want to misrepresent the facts.  Guess that's more important to some people than others.

VFB: “People are trying to couch this as a private property issue, but if it is, then you should be able to hunt and fish on private property 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, not just on Sundays.”

This is a complicated statement, but to see its true merits, we simply have to exchange any number of regulated legal private land activities with "hunting":  "You should be able to operate a 800,000 btu blast furnace on private property 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. "You should be able to hold a monster truck mud jam in a protected wetland on private property 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."  "You should be able to burn off 400 contiguous acres of timber deadfall on private property 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."  "You should be able to  operate a gravel mine and all its equipment  on private property 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

Obviously those statements are totally absurd! Likewise, Mr. Stoneman's quote is totally absurd.  Regulations at the County, state, and federal level (far above and beyond the archaic Sunday hunting ban) give us all guidelines for what is deemed an "appropriate" time/season/extent of many activities on private land.  In all cases except hunting and the purchase of hard liquor, these activities do not have a "Sunday ban."  No one would ever suggest that these legal activities, if kept legal, would be allowed to occur 24/7/365.    To suggest or predict otherwise is...problematic... to say the least. 

VFB: Virginia is one of 11 states that prohibit hunting on Sundays.

Actually Mr. Stoneman, Virginia is one of 6 states that totally prohibit hunting on sundays.  Don't try and make the "out crowd" seem bigger than they are. 6 states totally prohibit sunday hunting.  5 more states partially prohibit sunday hunting (typically the ban remains in place for public lands, as it it likely to in Virginia).  39 states allow free and open Sunday hunting.   In those other 39 states, somehow, no data shows that church attendance has sagged, that more horse riders have been shot, or that farmers cannot still enjoy their land in peace, if they choose, by saying, "No Sunday Hunting on My Property."    We're talking about relatively God-fearing states like Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, as well as liberal states like New York and California. 

VFB: The state Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee last Thursday approved SB 464, which would allow Sunday hunting on private lands with landowners’ permission and on public waters. Public land would still be closed.

An accurate statement.  Thank you. Again, noted: "PUBLIC LAND WOULD STILL BE CLOSED."

VFB: The full Senate will vote soon on the bill, and similar House of Delegates bills also will be heard in subcommittee.

In the few short days that Mr. Stoneman took to write this press release, the full Senate voted to approve the bill, and similar House of Delegates language is being prepared for subcommittee.  (awkward silence!)

VFB: “I think this legislation discriminates against rural residents,” said Bruce Richardson, a Northampton County farmer and Farm Bureau member. “Rural residents and those visiting the country should be able to enjoy a safe walk in the woods or around farm property on Sundays.”

If we choose to look at the economics of this issue, arguably, the Sunday hunting ban  discriminates against rural landowners - depriving them of a legal, constitutionally designated use of their own property during the legal hunting season, and unfairly reducing the value of hunting leases paid to them by suburban, rural, or otherwise traveling hunters.  Suburban and urban residents would not be directly financially impacted by the ban, therefore, the ban is discriminatory against others -  rural residents. 

Based on the proponderence of sunday hunting in 44 other states, rural residents and those visiting the country can, and do, enjoy a safe walk in the woods or around farm property.  And once again, why would "farm property" be unsafe? If you do not want hunters on your property on sunday, all you have to do is write "no sunday hunting" on the hunting permission form that all hunting guests are required to obtain from you every season (yes, required).  Why, on this issue, should the state dictate that on your property,  an otherwise legal activity (defined as a "constitutional right") is illegal on 3? 6? 8? Sundays per year? 

VFB: For decades, Farm Bureau members in Virginia have discussed and voted in favor of opposing Sunday hunting, Stoneman said. In policy discussions among elected representatives of the organization, members cited faith-based beliefs as well as the ability of horse owners and riders and landowners to use the outdoors one day a week without worrying about hunters.

To my knowledge, the Virginia Farm Bureau has never released any detailed information about those "discussions" and "votes." After so many decades, with sparse to no information released about these "votes," one can wonder exactly who voted, when, and how.  We now know that some Farm Bureau members are scratching their heads, wondering the same thing. 

VFB: “I have to watch out for hunters wherever I go on my farm,” said Corky Shackelford, an Albemarle County farmer and Farm Bureau member. “I wear a blaze orange hat during deer season, because even though I post ‘No hunting’ and ‘No trespassing’ signs, hunters go on my land anyway.”

The inference here is that poachers, trespassers and other law breakers obey the sunday hunting ban.   Are we to assume that the Mafia, urban drug dealers, crooks in Congress, Mexican drug cartels, and other criminals also obey a Sunday day of rest?  After all, their activities are illegal on sundays!  Let's settle this right now: a Sunday hunting ban does not impact the illegal activities of outlaws!  If the Farm Bureau is seeking stronger enforcement of property rights by game wardens and police, they should mount a political campaign to increase police budgets, not ban Sunday hunting.   

VFB: Shackelford said people who live in the country and people who want to visit the country “deserve a day of safety and peace.”

On "safety," data on hunting accidents does not show any significant raise (for example, less than one thousandth of one percent over the course of an entire human lifetime) in accident rates for a state to possibly expand hunting into sunday.  There is no data and there are no facts indicating that non-hunter "safety" will be meaningfully impacted by sunday hunting.

As for "peace," recreational shooting, ATV riding, motocross riding, off-roading, mud-bogging, and other relatively rowdy activities are all allowed on Sundays.  All are much louder than hunting.  And all can impact private land.  And yet, the Farm Bureau has not expressed interest, to my knowledge, in prohibiting any of those activities on private land. 

VFB: Rural landowners have a responsibility to be good neighbors, and “giving up one day out of seven so people can enjoy peace and quiet is not too much to ask,” said Richardson, who is a hunter himself.

Without even getting into the fact that shooting assault weapons, semi-automatic handguns, and other kinds of weapons is totally legal on Sundays, I agree that neighbors should be good neighbors.   But what if my neighbor told me not to smoke a pork shoulder on sunday, because he hates the smoke? Or not to fix my car on sundays, because he hates the sound of pneumatic tools? I'd argue that my neighbor's request, asking me to stop legally allowed activities on my own property during normal hours, would be the actions of a bad neighbor. No one has yet successfully explained to me how a bow hunter on the next property, a quarter mile away, will impact someone else's safety or peace on Sunday.  A bow is nearly silent.  An arrow (from most bows) drops quickly after about 120 feet. Sounds pretty neighborly to me.

VFB: Stoneman said that if hunters are allowed to pursue their sport on Sundays, conflict between hunters and the general public will increase. “That ultimately will hurt the sport in the long run. We want people to hunt, but not on Sunday.”

This is conjecture.  The fact that this conjecture comes from an organization that sides with PETA and the Humane Society of the US (both of whom are actively seeking to ban all hunting in Virginia) makes it totally disingenous.  And if sunday hunting was so assuredly going to damage recreational hunting in the long run, wouldn't the anti-hunters support sunday hunting? Of course, they do not, because the anti's predict that Sunday hunting will increase hunting and hunters in Virginia.

The President of the Humane Society, an important political ally to the Virginia Farm Bureau in this effort, has publicly stated that, "Our goal is to get sport hunting in the same category as cock fighting and dog fighting." By the way Mr. Stoneman, HSUS also seeks to ban farming livestock for meat, and commercial/"industrial" scale farming with animals in general.    

Fact: the Virginia Farm Bureau is actively working alongside those who wish to end all hunting, and many legal farming practices, in Virginia.   Is this really a good way to stand up for private property rights?  

VFB: If legislation is passed that allows Sunday hunting on private lands, it is likely to expand to other property as well.  “If Sunday hunting is overturned in any form, then there will be another bill next year and another one the next expanding hunting rights,” Stoneman said.

Again, more fear.  Some proponents of Sunday hunting would like to see it expanded to Public land.  Others would not.   In the 5 American states with partial Sunday hunting, I know of no active campaigns to expand those Sunday hunting rights. And I've looked. Currently, all Virginia proponents are working together to get Sunday hunting passed on private lands (SB 464).  Until Sunday hunting on private land is passed and enacted, it would be impossible to give even a slightly accurate prediction about whether "there will be another bill next year"  to further expand Sunday hunting.  Personally, I don't think that Sunday hunting on public land will be supported by the same diverse group of Virginia hunters, farmers, non-hunters, and law-makers.  But that's my opinion (conjecture) - I won't mask it as "fact" and try to frighten you into supporting my opinion.

VFB: “It will just give people who oppose hunting a reason to further restrict it,” Richardson added.

Speaking of "frightening people into supporting" an opinion, this is another 30 year old, bombed-out and depleted argument that has never, ever materialized in any other state who ended their Sunday hunting ban.   The 44 states that have some form of sunday hunting include some of the most liberal states in the country (New York, California, Maryland), and in all of those blue-bleeding states, hunting, particularly for deer, upland game, and waterfowl, remain vibrant traditions that are not under consistent attack from anti-hunters or the general public.  VFB's quote is simply not factual. 

VFB: With more than 150,000 members in 88 county Farm Bureaus, VFBF is Virginia’s largest farmers’ advocacy group. Farm Bureau is a non-governmental, nonpartisan, voluntary organization committed to protecting Virginia’s farms and ensuring a safe, fresh and locally grown food supply.

If anyone from the Virginia Farm Bureau cares to comment, I will happily supply my email address so that you can resolve at least one major issue with VFB's press release  (specifically, its basis in popularity from VAFB members).  Obviously I understand the importance of maintaining confidential data, so I simply ask:

1.  Who conducted the poll (or vote) of VAFB members?  
2. Exactly what wording was used to poll VFB members about Sunday hunting?    3. What other information (word for word) were they provided during the phone call or interview?
3. Was the poll (or vote) open to all VFB members in all counties? What was the selection process for choosing potential respondents?
4. What was the margin of error in the poll or selective vote?
5. How many voters, or poll responses, were gathered?

Note that within those questions, I have not questioned the legitimacy of the results that VFB found.  But given VFB's continued advancement of this particular pro-government control agenda, and the fact that detailed information about their "policy process" is not easily available to the public, I have a hard time taking it anywhere as seriously as the growing list of recent scientifically-run polls of Virginia citizens and hunters, which  show support for Sunday hunting.  

Unlike some opponents of Sunday hunting, I'm providing you with a link, again, to the actual legislation, so you can read it and make up your own mind about whether the Commonwealth should continue to decide whether you're allowed to hunt on Sundays, on your own property, during legally allowed hours and seasons already set by the Commonwealth, with public input from hunters, guides, and landowners (as they do every single year).

God Bless and I hope the season was productive and safe for you. 


Matthew O'Brien said...

Best response I have seen to date! Again this should be read at the House AG hearing, I know I will be sending it to ALL of them and my delegate.

Alex said...

Very informative read!

SO glad I don't live up there haha. Question: Are ya'll allowed to fish on Sundays?

River Mud said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
River Mud said...

Alex, of course yes, that's what's absurd about it. You can butcher animals on sunday. Fish on sunday. Ride horses on sunday. The only animals who "get rest" are game species, and they only "get rest" from human pressure, not all of the natural pressures they face.

Karin "Buffy" Eppard said...

River Mud,

It's logical well thought out responses like yours that are fueling the progress that we are making towards lifting this antiquated ban on Sunday Hunting in Virginia. Thank you for your blog, and for your thoughtful and insightful response. I will be forwarding your link to every committee member and legislators for whom I have email addresses.

Again, THANK YOU!!!

River Mud said...

Karin, this is my tiny contribution. I hope that several months from now, I can write the amazing success story of this grassroots effort.

Being against the Sunday hunting ban doesn't even mean being "for" sunday hunting. It just means that someone believes in the separation of Church and state, and that landowners are the best people to decide whether hunting is a good activity for their own property (and no one else's) on sundays.

Anonymous said...

There is no poll, and probably never will be. A poll would only weaken the position of the FBF.....because it would show levels of opposition, as well as levels of support. This would make it impossible for the FBF to take either position. What truly weakens their position is the fact that hunting on Sunday is, and has been legal, plus Sunday hunting has seen significant growth recently. There is no ban in place on hunting on Sunday, Sundays just happen to be more restricted than other days. We know that the DGIF licenses about 100 private, and/or commercial shooting preserves throughout the state.....and they all offer Sunday hunting through April of this year. I am confident that the FBF has ties to many, if not all of these preserves.....either through insurance, shooting stock, feed, bird dog supplies, etc.. I'm confident that FB members are also neighbors of these preserves.....and oddly none have come foward asking that these preserves be closed on Sundays. Our trappers are required to visit traps every 24 hours, and can by law, dispatch (kill)an animal held in a trap with a firearm. Nearly every year VA approves increases in Sunday hound hunting. There is no evidence that the FBF objects to these increases, and it's been suggested that the FBF supports them. What should be most interesting is that VA's liberal hound laws grants all hounds, and their handlers access to all lands. Essentially, there isn't a FB landowner member anywhere in the State that has the power through law to prevent hunting from taking place on their property, including all Sundays. It's time for Virginia to make a decision.....if it finds that hunting on Sunday is wrong, then all forms of hunting should be wrong.....thus requiring that our shooting preserves be closed on Sunday, the gates at our chase enclosures would have to be closed, and locked at midnite on Saturdays and remain so until Monday morning at 12:01, all hounds would need to be up by midnite Saturday. This would shut down the lawful raccoon, fox and bear hunting that's existed for decades, on Sundays. Of course, we can't address hunting without addressing recreational shooting, since opposers to Sunday Hunting fear being shooting would have to be thrown in the Sunday hunting bag. Like many Virginia Christains, I worship on it would only be fair that hunting be restricted on Saturday as well as Sunday.....but come to think of it, our church has a opendoor worship policy, and people worship there goes all hunting. Maybe there's a way that we can find time to worship, and hunt.....that idea seems reasonable to me?

River Mud said...

Anon (on FB member polling) - I suspect as much, but can't throw that accusation out in the public realm without any evidence at all.

But I think you, and everyone, are right to be suspicious - and legislators should take note when FB makes statements like, "The 500 million members of VFB strongly and conclusively oppose sunday hunting!"

Because they do NOT. Nor (I suspect) have they ever been asked.

I began to get suspicious of this during PA's last legislative session, where the PAFB PR meme was, "Our members strongly/conclusively/adamantly/decisively" oppose Sunday hunting."

I just (personally) found it impossible to believe that farmers from the Lake Erie shore to Philadelphia, from Mennonite to organic to conventional farmers would "decisively" agree on ANYTHING.

So again, now the claim has been backed off to say, "Democratically driven process" and "grass roots policy process" because those are meaningless terms that give them tons of wiggle room if questioned.

River Mud said...

Anon (knew this would require two separate responses):

1. What we know: VFB (VFBF) wants to retain the current status quo on sunday hunting, which includes certain rights for hound hunters.

2. What we also know: the current status quo allows some "flexibility" for certain persons associated with VFB when it comes to hound hunting and trespassing on sundays.

2. Less clear: WHO in VFB's donor ranks is pushing this. I don't even think we know who the suspects are who so strongly oppose SB 464 or any similar bill. Certainly it's not the rank and file Farm Bureau member.

3. Most depressing: VFB is flagrantly trying to scare anti-hunters and non-hunting Christians into thinking that hunters (many of whom are FB members) are a drunken, violent bunch who could shoot up a church parking lot or a suburban cul de sac on a sunday morning with no provocation or warning.

4. I've actually done policy work across the table from the Farm Bureau in other states. I've found them to be firmly stuck in the 1950s, because their standard position is, "Don't you dare try to regulate anything that happens on a farm." So honestly, the fact that the leadership of PAFB and VFB are so afraid of removing a law that regulates activities on a farm is humorous, though very sad, to me.

Anonymous said...

I think this could be easily resolved if Sunday hunting was left up to the local municipality to decide. Much like is done with the use of rifles, dogs ect... This has worked well with counties such as Fairfax and Loudoun having extended doe only seasons running into late spring. I truly don't believe this is a one size fits all issue. We fortunately live in a very diverse state ranging from mountains to coastal plain. But with this comes very diverse opinions along geographical lines as well. What seems perfectly acceptable in Stafford Co. may be down right insulting in Isle of White Co. Furthermore people fail to realize that many of these normally slow paced rural communities are truly invaded by non-resident hunters during the hunting season. Many of these are large organized clubs that don't necessarily comprehend that they are visiting somebody else's neighborhood and need to show a certain level of courtesy. More times than not it's the attitude I have paid my dues and have the right to behave however I wish. Non-Sunday hunting at least gives these local residents a slight reprieve especially being that it's day of worship which is highly revered in these communities. The rebuttal to this opinion is simply that the landowner not permit Sunday hunting but in most of these areas timber companies own and lease a large majority of the hunting land who most likely will not place this restriction, thus still putting the local community in the same position. This all being said leave it up to the Counties to decide what takes place in it's own backyard. If the legislature wants to address a true rights issue let them repeal the statute allowing lawful trespass on any land to retrieve dogs. With GPS and Radio tracking collars now being the norm there is no longer a need to grant this privilege. I can't think of anything more invasive than a wandering dog owner telling a tax paying landowner they can come on that property anytime he feels like it no matter how many No Trespassing signs he has up. In closing I think Sunday hunting has it's place in Va. but should be implemented with compromise not a one size fits all approach.

River Mud said...


I hope that others see your response to see what a well-reasoned, grown-up argument looks like. Obviously we disagree on some points, but what you say makes a lot of sense.

On municipality/county opt-ins, this has worked moderately well in Maryland but very poorly in WV. The reason? In Maryland, the County police and env. agencies decide on whether the env. benefits and possible safety risks (basically none) warrant an opt-in to the state's sunday hunting policy. It's worked OK, although the counties with the biggest herds have refused to move forward with it. BUT Sunday hunting opportunities DO exist somewhere in the state, on private property. You just need written permission to hunt.

In West VA, the state legislature requires that SH goes to public ballot (alongside unpopular stuff like tax increases, bond bills, etc), and it's one-and-done. Many, many people are frustrated with how that process went, and so I'd caution that VA NEVER follow that model.

On the hounds issue - you're echoing what I've been saying - the Sunday hunting ban is NOT going to save hound hunting in Virginia. If hound hunters want to save their tradition, they need to start soon. The suburbanites (paying millions for farmland) are not going to tolerate the 7-day trespass for deer.

Living in the 1950s and thinking that "this is our tradition, and can't nobody take it away" will eventually crush any group of hunters who dare to believe it.

The fact that the Farm Bureau has taken up with the anti-hunters on this policy effort tells me that they either believe it, or they don't care.

Thanks again for your well-reasoned comment. Hope you come back to visit!

Will Jenkins said...

Impeccable response! Thank you for posting this. Fair, well thought out response. This should be read in the House Sub Committee tomorrow!