By MATT MILNER
Courier staff writer
---- — DES MOINES — The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled three men with Albia ties were not unconstitutionally denied Iowa resident hunting permits.
At issue was the question of whether land ownership in Iowa confers a right to hunt on the land as a resident of the state. Resident landowners have limited hunting rights for some wildlife, and the men argued denying them those rights because they live out of state most of the time was a violation of the state’s constitution.
Joseph Democko, Donald Jones and James Samis each own property in Monroe County. In July 2010, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources notified the men it was revoking their resident hunting licenses and invited them to apply for nonresident permits.
All three men appealed, and administrative law judges in their cases sided with the IDNR. They then appealed to the courts.
Democko is a chiropractor and, according to court documents, consults for a chiropractor in Albia. He owns a Monroe County farm and is president of Wild Lands for the Future, Ltd., an Iowa corporation that also owns farmland in Monroe County.
Democko is registered to vote in Iowa and has filed resident income tax returns in Iowa since 2006.
Jones said in court documents that he spends most of his time outside Iowa, though he established Iowa residency in 2007 and holds an Iowa driver’s license. He even served as a juror in Monroe County. He does not personally own property in Iowa, but with his wife he is co-owner of Hobbs Lake, LLC, and Powderhorn Ridge, LLC, Iowa companies that do hold land here.
Samis and his wife own about 80 acres in Monroe County and he lives in a home in Iowa, but he admits he spends most of the year outside the state. Before 2006 he lived in Maryland and the company he owns with his wife, which owns three Iowa farms, is registered there.
The state supreme court backed the lower courts’ decisions, saying Iowa Code defines resident as a person whose “principal and primary residence or domicile” is in Iowa. Each man’s family lives outside Iowa, and the appellants return to those families after traveling to Iowa.
The court also held that, while the state does treat residents and nonresidents differently for the purposes of hunting, that those distinctions are not constitutional violations. Further, since the state has asserted a claim to all wildlife within its borders, property owners do not have a right to hunt based solely on their land ownership.