Residents near and within Blackwater Wildlife Management Area want the state to stop dogs from hunting deer on their property.(Photo: file)CONNECT>TWEET>LINKEDIN 6 COMMENTEMAILMORE
Vietnam veteran William Daws Jr. has seen gun shots fired over his head. He wasn't talking about the ones U.S. pilots dodged flying the Laos and North Vietnam sky.
It happened when he stood in his backyard in Santa Rosa County.
It was a message.
Monica Joyner said she received a similar notice. The 55-year-old has been sprayed with buckshot twice on her property. She no longer has her grandchildren over during Thanksgiving because "it's unsafe."
Daws, Joyner and 12 other neighbors said when they complained about the chaos and dangers of deer hunters and dogs rampaging through the woods, they faced retaliation.>
Ouida Gershon and William Daws are among the residents who live within and near Blackwater WMA who have confronted deer-dog hunters. They said when they complained they were threatened, their home vandalized and a series of fires occurred on the 55 acres where they care for rescue horses and dogs. Gershon and Daws are plaintiffs in a suit seeking to have the FWC change deer dog hunting rules. (Photo: Gershon and Daws)
A series of fires occurred on Daws' 55 acres where he and his wife care for rescue horses and dogs. His house also was vandalized.
"It's been constant harassment," said the 69-year old Daws. "They've tried to intimidate me, but what they've done is made me mad."
Daws and his neighbors have filed a lawsuit that threatens to disrupt deer hunting season in the Blackwater Wildlife Management Area. The case is a classic clash between newcomers and Old Florida values.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission is under the gun. It has 10 weeks to figure out how to control deer-dog hunters. Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers has ordered the agency to stop Panhandle hunters and their dogs from trespassing on private property or face contempt of court charges.
Deer hunting season begins Nov. 23. The FWC has distributed 800 permits to allow hunters to deploy dogs to chase deer into the open and shoot them.>Buy Photo
Dates for the 2017 deer dog season in Northwest Florida are: Nov. 23 -26, Dec. 16-31 and Jan. 15 - through Feb. 7 (Photo: Democrat files)
Gievers' Aug. 31 order doesn’t stop dogs from hunting in Blackwater but requires the FWC to “abate the nuisance” they create when scouring the woods for deer.
So far though, the FWC seems incapable of managing the disputes, court documents reveal.
“We are disappointed in the judge’s decision to lift the stay and will appeal the decision,” said Susan Smith, the FWC spokeswoman. “We take hunting and fishing violations very seriously and will continue to enforce all wildlife laws.”
People and dogs have hunted together for eons. Florida and eight other states of the Old Confederacy still allow dogs to hunt deer. Blackwater is one of six WMAs in northwest Florida where dogs are allowed to participate in the 44-day deer hunting season.
The practice divides conservationists into opposing camps. There are those like bird watchers, who passively enjoy the wild, and more active users of conservation lands such as traditional hunters. The tension is complicated by Florida’s ambitious land buying program. Tracts are acquired as they become available, creating a patchwork of public lands broken up by parcels of private property.
Betty and William Tolbert’s property is completely surrounded by Blackwater. They said they can’t fish with their grandchildren on their land because deer dog hunters turn it into a “war zone.” They said they erected no shooting signs that quickly became riddled with bullet holes.
Hershel Holt has given up hunting on his property next to Blackwater. The 73-year-old pays more than $300 to still hunt in Alabama instead of dealing with the noise and ensuing chaos that comes with hunters and dogs chasing deer through the woods. He also told the court he can’t let his grandchildren ride horses on his property because of “concerns about shooting.”
Daws and his wife have taken in nine rescue horses and 24 rescue dogs on their land along the eastern edge of Blackwater. He said horses run like deer and are spooked when a pack of dogs invades the property.
“I have had them come back with puncture wounds, branches sticking out of them,” said Daws. “My wife won’t ride during hunting season because a (spooked) horse will go through a fence.”
Hunters who run their dogs on private property don’t understand why there are problems.
“You know how you fix that?” asked deer-dog hunter Denny Dyals of Dixie County. “Find them and then fine them. Most hunters are working people and they don’t have $250 laying around.”
Dyals hunts deer with dogs but hasn’t shot a deer in five years. The secretary-treasurer for the Dip n Vat Hunt Club in Old Town, Dyals says he just “loves being in the woods” with his dogs watching them “do what they love to do.”
The FWC has different rules for hunting on private property and on public lands and the agency said it employs the most restrictive rules for dog hunting anywhere at Blackwater.
"We require GPS collars and tracking by rule," said Smith. "Dogs are also monitored by the behavior correction device, in addition to the remote tracking."
Dyals said the GPS devices he and the 90 members of his club use can pinpoint within 10 feet the dog’s location.
“It makes more work for the FWC, but it stops that nonsense,” said Dyals. “They enforce the rules on private property, why don’t they do it on public lands?”
Long simmering dispute
The Blackwater dispute dates to the 1990s but heated up three years ago when 14 property owners adjacent to or within Blackwater finally decided they had enough. They went to court and declared that deer dog hunters interfered with their right to enjoy their land.
The FWC explained to Judge Gievers it relies on the Responsible Hunter Rule to prevent clashes between property owners and hunters. For a hunter to be found in violation though, the property owner must catch the dog. FWC Wildlife Officers testify they themselves can catch the dog just 5 percent of the time. Once the dog is in custody, then the FWC has to link the offending canine to an owner.
“It’s ridiculous,” scoffs Daws, a USAF veteran. “They know you are not going to catch the dog.”
David Youngblood lives next to Blackwater and submitted as evidence a January 2014 letter from then-FWC Chairman Richard Corbett that acknowledged the deer dog hunting was a policy problem and not an enforcement one.
Youngblood told the court his father’s wake on the family farm was disrupted by a pack of deer dogs.
Gievers put the FWC on notice with an injunction in 2016. She told the agency it had to find a way to stop the dogs and hunters from invading private property.
The agency appealed the injunction, which triggered an automatic stay. Last month, Gievers lifted the stay as part of sanctions for the FWC attorney violating the confidentiality of the mediation of the lawsuit mandated by the automatic stay.
“It is clear that the plaintiffs have continued to be harmed by the actions of those who have received the licenses and permits during last year’s hunting season,” Gievers wrote Aug. 31. “It is clear not vacating the automatic stay would further harm the plaintiffs, while the commission seemingly continues to ignore their property rights.”
The FWC has yet to appeal Gievers’ decision to lift the stay.
Both sides indicate a willingness to exhaust all avenues of appeals.The plaintiffs are seeking $15,000 in damages, attorney fees and a deer-dog free Thanksgiving.
“The state has elevated the rights of deer dog hunters over private property rights,” said attorney David Theriaque, who represents the plaintiffs. “I can’t find another example of that.”
Reporter James Call can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source : http://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2017/09/17/deer-dogs-hunters-clash-north-florida-property-owners/661710001/