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CASH Courier > 2004 Fall / Winter Issue

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The C.A.S.H. Courier

WHO’S HARASSING WHOM?

Hunter Harassment Laws are being used to harass non-consumptive enjoyers of wildlife and property owners.

Compiled by Anne Muller

The numbers of calls that we’ve gotten from people who have been harassed by hunter harassment laws has significantly increased. What is abundantly clear is that the Hunter Harassment Laws were designed not to prevent harassment of hunters, but rather to harass people who were protecting themselves from hunters, protecting their lives, protecting their property, or protecting their right to be in a public place to enjoy wildlife non-consumptively.

The Case of Bill Knapp:

Bill Knapp wrote that he kayaks daily near Speedwell Forge Lake in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania for about five months out of the year. Every September waterfowl hunters show up. Last year a hunter on the opposite shore fired at a passing goose. He missed, but the shot splashed down next to Bill

Bill explains that the lake is narrow and shot can easily cross the entire lake. Bill points out that while the Pennsylvania Game Commission considers it an anomaly for a hunter to shoot at someone, it still only takes one shot to cause death or serious injury.

Bill wears a bright red life vest and his kayak is bright yellow; everybody agrees that’s a hard to miss combination. Even if a hunter is cockeyed and crocked, it’s clear that Bill is not a goose. Because Bill has been shot at, he began to use an air horn to announce his presence. Although the game agency says that the sound disturbs the morning silence, Bill counters that it doesn’t do so any more than blasting shotguns.

In Bill’s letter to the Pennsylvania Game Commission he asks what he can do to prevent getting shot, and he cautions them to not suggest that he stop kayaking. He points out that: it is a Fish and Boat Commission lake, not a game commission lake, and that his kayak is legally registered. He asked what he could do to ensure that the guilty hunter is both prosecuted successfully and loses his hunting privileges. He asked that the Pennsylvania Game Commission respond to his concerns before the opening of this year’s waterfowl season.

A month later, Steven Martin of the Pennsylvania Game Commission answered with violins playing in the background:

He said that as the human population increases and open space decreases, there are user conflicts. He points out that the lake, although owned by the Fish and Boat Commission, is under the Game Commission’s Public Access Program and that fact allows it to be open to public hunting. He claims that while Bill should be able to pursue his activity of choice, the same is true for a hunter! He suggests that Bill avoid where he had been kayaking and change his hours of kayaking to minimize his risk and avoid future conflict!

He points out that shooting at someone is not ethical but is, nevertheless, not illegal unless it is proven that the hunter was aiming to shoot at the person. He says that while “recklessly endangering of another person” may be applicable, the burden of proof is required. Bill would have to show that the hunter knew he was there before firing and then willfully fired in his direction, and knew his shot would strike or injure him.

Steve Martin admits “These can be difficult things to prove….It comes down to one person’s word against another’s.”

Steve Martin then goes on to caution Bill over his use of sound so that he avoids being charged with “Interference with lawful taking of wildlife or other activities prohibited by this law” including “interjecting himself in the line of fire.”

Bill then responded that the letter raised more questions than it answered.

He said the most surprising statement was that a hunter couldn’t be prosecuted for shooting at him unless he could prove that the hunter knew he was there and willfully fired, and knew his shot would cause injury. Bill pointed out that because the hunter fired and had to know that the entire width of the lake is within shotgun range, the hunter should not have fired at the goose flying above his kayak.

Bill writes: “You dismissed this hunter’s actions as ‘certainly not ethical.’ Ethics? Carelessly endangering a human life can hardly be minimized as mere unethical behavior. How is this any different than prosecuting a drunk driver? Both demonstrate reckless behavior while using a deadly weapon.

Bill continues to question Martin, “Why is it illegal to use a horn to announce to hunters who may be busy watching the sky that I’m about to pass?” He says “All boats in Pennsylvania are required to carry a horn or whistle for safety reasons.” Boats everywhere give a couple of blasts of a horn when approaching potentially unsafe situations and this example would seem an appropriate use.

He points out that he kayaks to do bird and wildlife watching, so his favorite time is early in the morning. “I try to get out almost every day. I’m not doing circles or hanging out in front of hunters.”

“In the interest of taking responsibility for my own safety, what is the penalty if I blow my horn in the presence of hunters and disturb their day? Keep in mind that it only takes getting shot once to ruin my day!”

“I do not intend to limit my kayaking to Sundays. Making hunters legally accountable for the results of their actions would seem an essential ingredient of hunting safety.”

Bill points out that since open space is decreasing, maybe it’s time to limit hunters to Game Commission property only. “I wrote to you because I wanted a serious suggestion as to how I can further insure my safety while kayaking. You gave me none. Instead you told me that while a hunter can’t be prosecuted for shooting me, I can be prosecuted for blowing a horn!”

Follow-up:

Steve Martin actually showed up at Bill Knapp’s home. He said that Bill had misunderstood his letter but said nothing to make Bill think otherwise

And how high does this go?

Vernon Ross, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, wrote to Bill also. He said that there are laws to prosecute hunters who injure people or damage property and the penalty would include the hunter’s privileges being suspended. But he also cautions against disturbing the hunt by blowing a horn.

He suggests that one way to know if hunters are in an area is to look for decoys. But Bill points out that hunters often leave their decoys out permanently, making it difficult to know if hunting is going on but making the entire area a questionable safety area.

Bill gets to the core of the matter when he says that if they are serious about reducing the goose overpopulation, they should stop encouraging goose reproduction through habitat modification, food plots, and nesting platforms. Bill reports that the official in charge of the Game Commission’s Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area (WLMA) said that Middle Creek’s primary purpose is goose propagation. Bill suggests that they legalize and encourage egg-addling.”

The Case of Jan Haagensen

Jan called Wildlife Watch asking for help. She is an attorney in Pennsylvania who was taken to court for telling hunters to get off of her property:

She writes:

On the morning of December 3, 2001, my mother and I pulled out of our driveway and immediately saw a car parked in the road. There was a hunter standing behind a large round hay bale, 20 feet off the road. We drove up and down to be sure there were not other hunters who had gone onto our property.

I yelled to the woman that she could not road-hunt from that position with a high-powered rifle, and told her I would call the police. The woman came up and unloaded the shells from her gun and picked them up. As she was picking up the shells, a second hunter came out of the field and began to walk toward us. He was carrying a high-powered rifle. He came up to the passenger side of my truck and began to scream wildly at me and my 85 year old mother that he would kill both of us because we had stopped him from hunting; he told us that he would get into our house that night, and repeated that he would kill us.

I told the hunter that I would have him arrested for making terroristic threats, and left to call the state police on my cell phone. My mother and I waited in the car in our driveway for the officer to appear. When no officer responded within 30 minutes, we drove out to look for the hunters. We saw them parked on another neighbor’s property where they were apparently trespassing.

When the officer arrived, I told him where the hunters had gone. He then began to converse with them in a friendly manner. When I walked up to him to give him my statement, he began to shout that hunters could do whatever they wanted, and had a right to hunt in the road with high-powered weapons. He refused to listen to me when I told him that my life and my mother’s life had been explicitly threatened. On the contrary, he did not stop the hunters from shouting at me and interrupting when I tried to speak.

The officer refused to give me an incident report form with an incident number and the name of a contact person. The offer refused to talk to my mother. And never took a full statement from me. He interrupted and harassed me when I attempted to tell him what had happened.

The officer also refused to take a complaint from me stating that I had discovered damage done to the fences in my horse pasture by trespassers; my fences had been cut that morning.

The officer then told the two hunters that they didn’t have to stop what they were doing, and gave them permission to keep on road-hunting. He also told them that they could hunt on a piece of privately owned property fronting the road.

I was harassed by the officer who tried to intimidate me and prevent me from filing my complaints. No hunter has the right to park his car in the road and engage in hunting with a fully loaded weapon from a few feet of a public highway. This kind of conduct obviously presents a risk to any person in a vehicle or on foot, No hunter has the right to threaten anyone who tells them to stop road hunting activity before someone gets hurt.

Jan Haagensen says “The conduct of the officer was unacceptable, as he encouraged the hunters to continue in a criminal assault on the rights of other citizens. We cannot accept abusive conduct from a state police officer. We will not accept being stalked by persons who think the police can give them the right to break the law. It is the duty of the state police to protect all citizens of the Commonwealth, including those attempting to file a complaint.”

In a letter from the Pennsylvania State regional office they said. “The Bureau of Professional Responsibility has investigated your allegations that the trooper had not investigated into your complaint and was rude. A review of the investigation failed to provide...any evidence or information to substantiate your complaint….Rest assured that the men and women under my command enforce all laws of the Commonwealth with complete objectivity and without any bias.”

Jan is STILL in court!

In a newspaper article from that year it was reported that Pennsylvania hunters had the safest year in 2001. There were only(?) 62 hunting related shootings including two fatalities. One fatality occurred when a hunter’s stray bullet went through a window, a wall, and a door and struck 66 year old Meriel Bowser in the neck. The other fatality was when one hunter shot another.

The article goes on to say that in the case of Meriel Bowser, case tests did not conclusively link the bullet to the gun of the hunter. With a hunting accident you have to be able to prove carelessness and negligence in order to have a case.

Clearly it is time to overturn the laws that exist. We hope that these cases will be used by Pennsylvania attorneys to challenge the abusive nature of hunters and wildlife managers who are wielding this law like a club against decent citizens. To contact Bill Knapp or Jan Haagensen, please contact Wildlife Watch, Inc. wildwatch@verizon.net  

 

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Anne Muller - President

 

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