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January 2014 Brief: Volume 21, Number 2

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Is the Iowa Supreme Court on a Hunger Strike?


by Deborah D. Thornton


In response to the question “Where does our food come from?”
“…most would answer, ‘the supermarket.’  Drumsticks, NY Strip Steaks, and Pork Tenderloin wrapped in plastic or frozen chicken tenders and beanie weenies in a can barely resemble the animals they once were, let alone even share the same name.”[1]
- Lisa Lubin, Emmy Award-winning TV Producer and Blogger


Many, many people and organizations, from Willie Nelson and Farm Aid to British celebrity chef Raymond Blanc, have been encouraging parents and schools to teach children about food, animals, and farms. Blanc has gone so far as to advocate that we “force schools to teach children to grow their own food.”[2]


In response to the locally grown food movement and this desire for our young children to know about farming and food, many Iowa farmers open their land to school trips and youth groups for recreational and educational purposes.


The Iowa Supreme Court almost put a stop to that practice last February, ruling in Sallee v. Stewart (No. 11-0892, February 15, 2013) that farmers were widely liable for accidents and injuries on their property.[3] This ruling was widely anticipated to have a chilling effect on public farm visits. Fortunately the Iowa Legislature acted promptly to correct the law, voting unanimously to correct the language and provide protection for Iowa farmers. Governor Branstad signed the bill (HF649) last June.[4] Once it warms back up, farm visits will resume and children can learn about chickens, cows, pigs, and corn.


Hopefully, the Legislature will act again this year to clear up another Iowa Supreme Court ruling. This one makes us wonder if they, along with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, are on a hunger strike.


In the case of Democko v. Iowa Department of Natural Resources (No. 12-1944, December 8, 2013), three Iowa property owners who also maintain residences and do work in other states were denied resident hunting permits for their own land by the Iowa DNR in 2010. The number of deer hunting permits for out-of-state owners to hunt on their own property is lower than for in-state property owners. Out-of-state owners who wish to get licenses have to apply through a lottery process, where about half of the applicants are selected.[5] The three men, who all own property in Monroe County, appealed the DNR ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court – and lost.[6]


Apparently, having an Iowa driver’s license, voting in Iowa, serving jury duty in Iowa, owning an Iowa company, owning a house in Iowa, and paying in-state taxes is not enough to make one an Iowa resident for hunting license purposes.


An analysis of the ruling by the Iowa State University Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation says, “a landowner apparently has no greater fundamental right to hunt than a non-landowner. All hunting rights are established by the state legislature (sic).”[7] The analysis goes on to say, “…it is difficult to understand the state of Iowa’s legitimate interest in preventing the landowners…from hunting their own property in the same manner as other landowners.” The out-of-state landowners have the same “burden” of ownership that those who only own property, only work, and only shop in Iowa have – such as paying taxes, doing maintenance, and having the liability risk. Therefore, they should have the same privileges, at the same rate and the same cost.


In response to this different and unequitable treatment of in-state and out-of-state landowners, many state legislatures are passing constitutional amendments “preserving citizens’ rights to hunt and fish” on their own land.[8] Since 1996 sixteen states have passed such laws. Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Wyoming passed language in 2012. Mississippi will have constitutional language on the 2014 ballot, and in 2012 seven other states considered but did not pass such an amendment.[9] Other states, such as Florida, have statutes addressing the issue.


As shown by the farm liability issue, both liberal and conservative members of the Iowa House and Senate can work together in a timely and appropriate manner to address core issues important to Iowans. Treating private-property hunting and fishing the same for both in- and out-of state landowners should be on the 2014 Legislative agenda. Whether growing or killing their own food, Iowans are continually being personally responsible for themselves, their families, and their communities, and helping others do the same.


Maybe the Iowa Supreme Court isn’t on a hunger strike, but a traditional lifestyle strike. Maybe we should send them some beanie weenies in a can and let them figure out what kind of meat it is. And maybe we should keep voting them out of office.


[1] Lisa Lubin, “Where does our food come from?” Food, USA, December 1, 2009, <> accessed on December 11, 2013.
[2] Keith Kendrick, “Raymond Blanc: Force Schools to Teach Children to Grow Their Own Food,” Parentdish, August 29, 2013, <> accessed on December 12, 2013.
[3] Cassidy Riley, “Iowa Supreme Court case has farmers shutting their doors,” The Daily Iowan, April 11, 2013, <> accessed on December 12, 2013.
[4] Gene Lucht, “Farmers’ Liability for Visitors Cleared Up by Iowa Legislature,” Iowa Farmer Today, June 6, 2013, <> accessed on December 12, 2013.
[5] “Iowa Supreme Court Upholds License Law,” CBS2 News, December 8, 2013, <> accessed on December 11, 2013.
[6] Matt Milner, “Court Rejects Albia Area Hunters’ Case,” The Ottumwa Courier, December 6, 2013, <> accessed on December 12, 2013.
[7] Kristine Tidgren, “Democko v. Iowa Dep’t of Natural Res., No. 12-1944, 2013 Iowa Sup.,” December 6, 2013, p. 3, <> accessed on December 11, 2013.
[8] Ibid., p. 4.
[9] Douglas Shinkle, “Constitutional Right to Hunt and Fish,” National Council of State Legislatures, December 2012, <> accessed on December 12, 2013.


Deborah D. Thornton is a Research Analyst with Public Interest Institute, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Contact her at


Permission to reprint or copy in whole or part is granted, provided a version of this credit line is used:"Reprinted by permission from INSTITUTE BRIEF, a publication of Public Interest Institute." The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not necessarily those of Public Interest Institute. They are brought to you in the interest of a better-informed citizenry.




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