Bill would allow farmers to shoot wildlife without permits

Published 11:03 am Thursday, February 3, 2011

RICHMOND—Drewryville cotton and peanut farmer Chris Pope doesn’t exactly favor a proposed law that would allow Virginia farmers to kill deer, elk or bears in the act of damaging their crops.

A herd of deer in a crop field in Isle of Wight County. State lawmakers have proposed a bill that would not require farmers to wait for permits to kill wildlife damaging their crops.

It’s not that Cedar View Farms, operated by his family since the late 1800s, doesn’t have a problem with deer. Like most farmers in Southampton County, the Popes experience crop damage, losing as much as 5 percent of the annually to deer.

“I’ve always been able to get the tags we needed to control the damage,” Pope said. “By opening it up without getting the tags, I’m not sure if we’re opening it up for mischief.”

The General Assembly is considering a bill that would allow landowners or their designees to kill, without a state permit, deer, elk or bears in the act of damaging fruit trees, crops, livestock or property used in commercial farming. The bill also would require that kills be reported to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Right now farmers are required to get kill permits from the Department of Game.

“The time it takes to apply for and receive a kill permit to protect farm products and property can range from a couple of days to a few weeks,” said Wilmer Stoneman, associate director of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “This bill will allow farmers to kill deer, bears and elk and report it to VDGIF so they don’t have to wait for the crop to be completely destroyed before they do something about the animal. Right now, before getting a permit, the farmer has to have evidence of damage by the animal. That’s just wrong.”

Pope said getting damage tags from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has never been a problem.

“You can get the Game Department to come out, and all you have to do is walk around the field, and they will give you enough damage tags.”

Farm Bureau producer members were in Richmond last week to meet with state senators and delegates about issues of concern. Another wildlife bill they are watching would require the state game department to seek the authorization of local government prior to the introduction, reintroduction or relocation of wildlife in a locality.

A third bill would create a statewide fund to compensate farmers for damage done by deer, elk and bears. The fund will come from the sale of hunting licenses. All funds would have to be used each year for farm damages or donated to support Hunters for the Hungry.