In a ruling likely to provide a nationwide precedent,
the Virginia Supreme Court in mid-July upheld a lower court¹s ruling that bowhunting
is a safe, science-based tool of wildlife management, and that local communities cannot
outlaw bowhunting programs that comply with directives from state wildlife agencies.
The Supreme Court, in choosing not to hear an appeal
by the Reston Homeowners Association, also upheld a lower state court’s decision to
allow the Archery Trade Association to recover all legal fees. After being alerted
to the situation by the Suburban Bowhunters of Northern Virginia, the ATA brought
legal action against the Reston Homeowners Association in January 2007. The ATA won
the lawsuit in December 2007, and continued the fight after the homeowners’ association
appealed to the Supreme Court in May of this year.
As a result of the victory, bowhunters will return
to Reston’s woodlots this fall to reduce deer numbers and damage problems.
“This is a huge victory for bowhunting, not only in
Virginia, but quite likely nationwide,” said Jay McAninch, the ATA’s President/CEO.
“The Virginia Supreme Court reinforces four critical points that form the foundation
of bowhunting in America.
* First, bowhunting in urban areas can be done safely
without putting people or property at risk.
* Second, individual property owners can use bowhunting
to address deer-damage and nuisance problems.
* Third, wildlife is a public resource that’s held
in trust and managed by states – in this
case, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries – for
the public’s benefit.
* And four, individuals or homeowners’ associations
cannot usurp 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
The ruling ends a long-running legal dispute that began
in 2004 when the Reston Homeowners’ Association adopted a covenant to shut down the
suburb’s bowhunting program. Two local residents and the Suburban Bowhunters of Northern
Virginia opposed the covenant and began working with the ATA in 2006 to challenge
it in court.
The ATA filed its initial complaint in January 2007,
maintaining – among other things – that
the covenant violated Virginia’s Constitution regarding wildlife management. At one
point, the ATA subpoenaed testimony from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
because Virginia’s attorney general would not enter the case to enforce the agency’s