One of the hottest issues for sportsmen, animal owners, and anyone who enjoys working with animals is the government’s attempt to regulate non-commercial activities as though they were commercial in nature. For eons, hunters, anglers, ranchers, animal breeders, and others have passionately devoted themselves to passing on their knowledge to the next generation. Many people are involved in these activities simply because they love what they do. Unfortunately, in the last few decades, our government, at varying levels, has more and more attempted to treat anyone engaged in these pursuits in the same manner as commercial businesses. The result can be seen in a decline in hunters, putting U.S. conservation efforts in danger.
One woman in Colorado is facing this nightmare right now.
We told you about Dr. Alison Brown in Chaffee County, Colorado, a few months ago. Dr. Brown, a Master of Foxhounds, has been under attack from her neighbor and local council over her registered pack, the Headwaters Hounds, despite the fact that she has some 80-plus acres in a sparsely populated area. As a Master of Foxhounds, Dr. Brown has previously led riders on horseback on hunts for coyotes and jackrabbits over public U.S. Forest Service land. This non-commercial activity (Dr. Brown is an esteemed scientist, president and CEO of NAVSYS in her professional life) has brought her into conflict with the local council because she has been deemed an outfitter with an “outfitting facility” according to their local code. She’s been defending herself and her hounds for going on three years.
Dr. Brown has been waiting for court dates to see if she would have to get rid of her dogs; and if the county commissioners could ban her from leading hunts on federal public lands. We have some updates on her case.
First, the court wrangling continues. But, secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Dr. Brown has gained support. Along with the Master of Foxhounds Association of America, which has been in her corner from the start, the Sportsmen’s Alliance is speaking up for Dr. Brown. In addition, Dr. Brown’s case has gained a great deal of public support, especially from the people of Colorado who understand that they could easily find themselves in the same situation.
David Moore, a local citizen, recently submitted a suggested amendment to the Chaffee County Land Use Code Process that would change the Chaffee County definition of “outfitting facilities” to be more in line with the state of Colorado’s definition. The state definition draws a distinction between commercial and non-commercial activities.
From Mr. Moore’s request to the Planning Commission for the text change:
“I have been watching the County Staff fumble with trying to apply these ambiguous and undefined terms to land use issues, and I fear that their application of this definition will have unintended consequences and can be applied to many Chaffee County residents that recreate on public lands…The current definition of “Outfitting Facility” can make virtually every house, barn, garage or storage shed in Chaffee County an Outfitting Facility. A more precise definition is required to provide consistent, and universal use of Outfitting, and Outfitting Services definitions.”
The Sportsmen’s Alliance and the Master of Foxhounds Association of America agreed and supported Mr. Moore’s petition. In a letter to the Planning Commission they stated:
“We believe that the key issue is properly distinguishing between: (1) the commercial use of property by a person in the business of outfitting, and (2) non-commercial uncompensated activities by a homeowner or farm owner who, on a volunteer basis, assists other hunters, anglers, or other persons engaged in an outdoor group recreational activity. While the two are similar, regulations intended for the commercial component are not always appropriate or necessary for those not engaged in the business of outfitting.
“Mr. Moore’s petition correctly recognizes the essential role that uncompensated skilled leaders who volunteer their time to ensure that outdoor recreation is conducted safely, lawfully and in an enjoyable manner. The essential feature of his proposed amendment is to adopt the “for compensation” element of the definition of “Outfitter” already codified in the Colorado Revised Statues. His amendment essentially aligns local law with existing State law.”
As the Sportsmen’s Alliance points out in their letter to the Planning Commission, “it is essential for the future of hunting and fishing that experienced hunters and anglers be willing to volunteer their leadership services, skills, equipment, and facilities to newer, less-experienced, and less-well-equipped participants – without thereby subjecting their residential, agricultural, or vacation property to commercial-like land use regulation.”
Oddly enough, the Chaffee County Planning Commission, including the Director, opposed the new definition. According to the staff report on the proposed amendment, the current definition allows for more flexible regulation of local outfitting facilities – which seems to mean they can regulate anything they like. The staff report also says that the amendment would “limit the land use regulation for land uses that may impact neighboring properties.” This objection may seem reasonable until you consider that the properties under discussion are often large parcels or that, as in Dr. Brown’s case, the activities they want to regulate are on public land many miles from her property. None of the objections address the issue of commercial versus non-commercial land use of outfitting facilities which is at the heart of the problem. The current outfitting definition is not limited to professional guiding activities.
All of these objections from the Chaffee County Planning Commission leave the impression that they want to exercise excessive control over how residents use their property, especially as it pertains to animals, hunting, and outdoor activities.
Bill Canterbury, President of the Colorado Outfitters’ Association, has also expressed grave concerns about the impact Chaffee County’s arbitrary interpretation of Outfitting Facilities could have on local ranchers who allow hunting on their land.
When you consider that many people choose to live in Colorado precisely because they want to enjoy the outdoors and that they may have outdoor gear stored in a shed on their property, under the current Chaffee County language they could be considered outfitters, or an “outfitting facility” simply by having friends visit who want to hunt or fish on their property.
You will hardly be surprised to learn that at the meeting on April 24, the Planning Commission denied the proposed change in language for the county’s land use code.
According to an article by reporter Jan Wondra in the Ark Valley Voice, David Moore was quoted as saying he was worried that the inconsistent application of the current land use code will have unintended consequences. “If we continue the way things are, it feels like the county wants to keep us all off balance; free to define outfitter any way they choose. Matching the state statute would clear this up.”
This leaves Dr. Brown waiting for a County Commission meeting on this issue scheduled for May 8, with the Planning Commission’s negative report on the proposed amendment. She also has a scheduled court date of May 1-2 to defend herself against the county’s suit for a permanent injunction to stop her from using her hounds and horses for any “third party outings,” among other demands. The County has also even denied her occupancy in her house since January for these alleged land use code violations.
Dr. Brown owns 80-some acres of her own property in Chaffee County, Colorado – a place that is described as “the heart of the Rockies.” It covers about 1000 square miles and has about 20,000 people. That’s not many people per square mile. It seems like the Chaffee County government could be a little less heavy-handed when it comes to dealing with its residents.
Many people in the U.S. face similar battles against neighbors, local councils, and other groups that oppose hunting, working with animals, traditional farming, and other activities that are frequently under attack. It can be hard to fight these groups without good legal resources. Dr. Brown is doing everyone a favor by standing up for these rights.
Carlotta Cooper is vice president of Sportsmen’s and Animal Owners’ Voting Alliance and a regular contributing writer for The Cavalry Group, a member-based company working to defend the private property rights of animal owners and animal enterprise nationwide. Follow The Cavalry Group on Twitter, @TheCavalryGroup, and on Facebook.