MOUNT VERNON — Chalk up another victory for the state of Ohio.
A recent decision was handed down by the Ohio Supreme Court in the case of Ohio v. Coburn, Slip Opinion No. 2009-Ohio-834, and the decision clarifies the power Ohio wildlife officers have to enforce state hunting and fishing laws.
“The Ohio Supreme Court confirmed that an officer can enter private land without proof a crime is being committed as long as the officer is engaged in normal enforcement of Ohio fish and game laws,” said Knox County Wildlife Officer Mike Miller. “This is all a result of a 2006 investigation. The case affirmed the Division of Wildlife’s interpretation of the revised code.
“This is pretty big. This re-inforces what we believe. This also is important to everyone that cares about fish and wildlife.”
In the slip opinion for the case, William Coburn of Erie County was hunting mourning doves with his father, Marvin, and friend Todd Parkison on land he owned. A wildlife officer approached the three men to check their hunting licenses and ensure they were complying with the bag limits. On further review, the officer noticed wheat seed scattered about and in piles on the ground. Based on this observation, the officer suspected that the appellants were baiting migratory game birds in violation of R.C. 1531.02.
The officer left Coburn’s land and returned a short time later with another agent to investigate the area; they found additional wheat seed near the hunting location. Several weeks later, the three men were each charged with hunting migratory game birds on or over a baited area, a fourth-degree misdemeanor.
All three men moved to dismiss the complaints against them, and the trial court found that the officer was required to have good cause to enter the private land. The court also found that because no evidence of good cause existed in the record, the officer was not permitted to enter the land and the trial court dismissed the complaints against all three men.
The court of appeals, however, reversed the trial court judgment with respect to all three men and remanded for further proceedings, holding that R.C. 1531.14 gave the officer the authority to enter Coburn’s land. That led to the showdown at the supreme court.
After hearing all of the arguments, the justices concluded the wildlife officers performed their duties in accordance with the law. The judgment by the Ohio Supreme Court stated, “A state wildlife officer may enter private land pursuant to R.C. 1531.13 when the officer has good cause to believe that a law is being violated, and may enter private land pursuant to R.C. 1531.14 without good cause when acting in the normal, peaceful, and lawful pursuit of the enforcement of game and fish laws. Because the officer’s observations of unlawful baiting in this case were made after he validly entered Coburn’s land to check hunting licenses and bag-limit compliance under R.C. 1531.14, the trial court erred in dismissing the complaints, and the court of appeals properly reversed the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.”
Miller considers the decision a victory for Ohio’s sportsmen and women. It also allows hunters and fishermen to be on an even playing field.
“What this means is that I can do my duties as intended by the people of Ohio with regard to checking fish and game violations,” Miller said. “Fish and game is entrusted by the state of Ohio for all persons in the state, and it travels from property to property. There are rules that govern what you can do with wild animals on your own personal private property. You just can’t go out any time you want and take a wild turkey or a deer. The state has entrusted wildlife officers to be able to enforce those violations for all the residents of the state of Ohio. Because most land in Ohio is private property, most wildlife live on private property. The supreme court decision upheld that, in the normal routine performance of our duties, we can enter private property to do our job duties when it involves fish and game violations.”
Wildlife Violator Compact a success: The Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact continues to be another valuable source for the Division of Wildlife. The compact is an agreement that recognizes suspension of hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses in member states.
“There are 31 member states in the national database,” said Miller. “Ohio joined those state two years ago. This affects people even if they are a nonresident of Ohio, or if you are an Ohioan hunting in other states. What the compact does is allows us to treat nonresidents of Ohio as a resident when they are hunting in the state. What this means is, if you violate the law, we can issue you a ticket just like anyone else. Then, if you are an Ohio resident, you will be treated the same way in other member states. So far, Ohio has reviewed 5,499 entries and has agreed with all of those but one. ... Ohio did not recognize one because we do not have a similar type of offense. Since we don’t have a similar law, we can’t hold it against someone here.”
To date, Ohio has been active in preserving the rights of its hunters, as have the other states in the compact.
“Ohio has made 115 entries to the database, and one of the first was for a Wisconsin angler who had overbagged on walleye,” said Miller. “He has since been arrested in Wisconsin for hunting under suspension, which originated here in Ohio with the overbag. ... This is an added incentive for people to obey the law both here in the state of Ohio and in other states. It has worked out pretty good.”
For more information on the compact, go online to www.dnr.state.oh.us/Home/tabid/20979/Default.aspx.
peregrine Falcons making themselves at home: The 2009 peregrine falcon nesting season in Ohio is here and the birds have begun to choose their mates. As a result, the nests are popping up all over the state. Because of the efforts by the Division of Wildlife the peregrine falcon has been removed from the endangered species list.
“The spring peregrine falcon nesting season is well under way here in Ohio,” Miller said. “Peregrine falcons are a threatened species. We have observed 24 sights around the state that have territorial pairs in addition to six other sights with single falcons. So far, we have five sights that we believe to have eggs in the nest, and two of those sights are being incubated. The very first sight with eggs was the Terminal Tower nest in downtown Cleveland. The first egg was seen on March 11, and it is expected to hatch on Sunday.
“If you’re interested in peregrine falcons, we have falcon cams on the Rhodes Office Tower in downtown Columbus. You can go to the Division of Wildlife Web page, www.wildohio.com, and watch the peregrine falcons on the web.”