Virginians Asked to Review Hound Project Advisory Committee Recommendations

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Virginians Asked to Review Hound Project Advisory Committee RecommendationsAfter several months of information gathering, issue identification, and deliberations, the Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) for the Hunting with Hounds in Virginia: A Way Forward process has recommended strategies for addressing issues and concerns related to hunting with hounds in Virginia. The recommended strategies can be viewed on the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) website along with new reports that summarize public input and technical information. Hard copies can be requested by calling 540-231-0961.

The public is strongly encouraged to review the strategies and to comment on them. The comment period will close on Friday, September 12, 2008. There are several methods citizens can use to comment on the strategies discussed and/or recommended by the SAC.

Written comments can be emailed to HoundHuntingSAC [at] vt [dot] edu or sent to Hound-Hunting SAC c/o Sarah Kozlowski, 111 Cheatham Hall, Department of Fisheries & Wildlife, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24060-0321. Written comments can also be submitted at the series of public meetings that will be held throughout the state.

Public meetings will be held from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. August 26 through September 9, 2008, at locations across the Commonwealth. [list of locations below]

Virginians Asked to Review Hound Project Advisory Committee RecommendationsThe recommended strategies that the public is being asked to comment on are based on extensive input gathered through focus groups meetings; letters and emails to the VDGIF and Virginia Tech; results of the web-based and paper informal surveys; comments submitted to HoundHuntingSAC [at] vt [dot] edu; interactions between SAC members and their constituents; collaboration between the SAC and the VDGIF Technical Committee; and the personal experiences of each SAC member.

During meetings the SAC identified and prioritized issues, developed and prioritized potential strategies, and developed and voted to recommend strategies to address issues and concerns related to hunting with hounds in the Commonwealth. The SAC developed guidelines for the process of developing their recommended strategies. In the process strategies moved from general discussion to being proposed by a vote of the group. Proposed strategies needed a two-thirds majority vote to become recommended strategies. Below is a summary of the recommended strategies and well as significant proposed and discussed strategies.

Summarized Strategies Recommended by the SAC include:

Recommended Strategy: Improve Law Enforcement
Improve enforcement of all laws and regulations by increasing the number of conservation police officers employed by the VDGIF, by increasing coordination between VDGIF officers and other law enforcement agencies, and by providing better training to all enforcement agency personnel.

Recommended Strategy: Better Record Keeping
Improve recording keeping on violations and complaints received by VDGIF conservation police officers, VDGIF staff, dispatchers, local law enforcement agencies, and local animal control. The SAC recommends that more comprehensive, consistent, and standardized records be kept.

Recommended Strategy: More Funding for Law Enforcement
Seek permanent, new funding for VDGIF law enforcement to support the implementation of strategies related to increased law enforcement and better record keeping (Recommended Strategies #1 and #2). Implementation of these strategies being recommended by the SAC will require additional resources. Existing funding sources are likely insufficient and many of the agency’s existing sources of funding have reallocation restrictions.

Recommended Strategy: Increase Penalties and Fines
Increase penalties and fines for game law and regulation violations to increase compliance with existing laws and regulations, especially those related to high priority issues like trespassing, violations of Virginia’s right-to-retrieve law, road hunting, traffic violations, and hunting out of season. Repeat offenders should be dealt with harshly.

Recommended Strategy: Hunting From or Near Roads
Establish a statewide, minimum setback distance from public roads in which hunting would be prohibited. This no-hunting zone should be defined so that hound-hunters who have permission to can initiate a hunt after pulling off the road but would prevent the release of hounds onto private property without permission.

Virginians Asked to Review Hound Project Advisory Committee RecommendationsRecommended Strategy: Hound Identification
The SAC recommends that some type of hound identification be established that links hunters, hunt clubs, and dogs. External identification (vs. micro-chip) is favored because it would allow dog-owner contact information to be obtained by landowners, animal control, or law enforcement officers without the need for special equipment.

Recommended Strategy: Education/Training
Educational materials regarding hunting with hounds should be made available in multiple formats (web-based, paper, and other media as appropriate) and should target the educational needs of hunters and landowners separately.

Recommended Strategy: Code of Ethics
Develop a Code of Ethics for hound-hunters to outline expectations for ethical behavior and best practices. The code could be drawn from existing codes of ethics used by hound-hunting organizations.

Recommended Strategy: Accountability
The SAC recommends that members of the hound-hunting, nonhound-hunting, and landowner community hold accountable those who violate game laws and regulations or act in unsportsmanlike, unethical ways. This can be accomplished by doing such things as participating in the investigation and/or prosecution of complaints; by taking away privileges for those engaging in unacceptable conduct; and by taking other steps to hold violators accountable.

The SAC also discussed several strategies but did not recommend them at this time.

Proposed Strategy: Repeal/Modify Virginia’s Right-to-Retrieve Law
Modify Virginia’s right-to-retrieve law to require hunters to have permission to retrieve hounds from posted private property; to require landowners to post their property thoroughly with contact information; and to make private property that is not properly posted be presumed open to retrieval.

Proposed Strategy: Change Hunting/Training Seasons
Change hunting/training seasons to provide a training season for deer hounds on private land with permission, at a time when it avoids conflict with other hunting seasons; provide for an overlap of hunting and training for all types of hound-hunting to the greatest extent possible; and to provide for a period when there would be no hound-hunting or training, with few exceptions.

In addition to the strategies listed above, the SAC identified, but did not propose potential solutions to address a number of issues related to hunting with hounds. Other solutions identified but not proposed by the SAC at this time included a registration/permit system for hound-hunters, establishment of local stakeholder groups to address conflicts, and minimum acreage requirements for hunting with hounds.

Again, this is simply a summary. The full recommendations and other reports can be viewed on the VDGIF website or be obtained as outlined above.

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Public Meetings to comment on the Hound Study Advisory Committee Recommendations

Meetings will be held from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m.

August 26, 2008
Wytheville Meeting Center
I-81/77 Exit 73 or I-77 Exit 41
333 Community Boulevard
Wytheville, VA 24382

August 27, 2008
Spotswood High School
368 Blazer Drive
Penn Laird, VA 22846

August 28, 2008
Caroline Community Center
17202 Richmond Turnpike
Bowling Green, VA 22427

September 2, 2008
Fauquier High School
705 Waterloo Drive
Warrenton, VA 20186

September 3, 2008
Appomattox High School
198 Evergreen Ave.
Appomattox, VA 24522

September 4, 2008
King’s Fork High School
351 King’s Fork Rd.
Suffolk, VA 23434

September 9, 2008
Gretna High School
100 Gretna Hawk Circle
Gretna, VA 24577

In anticipation of large turnouts for the public meetings, the following ground rules have been established:

The purpose of these meetings is to gather public comments on the strategies recommended, proposed, and discussed by the SAC in relation to hound-hunting in Virginia. Comments on other topics, including wildlife laws and regulations not related to hound-hunting, should be made at VDGIF meetings for public input on regulations and at Board of Game and Inland Fisheries meetings.

Individuals will have three (3) minutes to make an oral comment. Please limit comments to the time allowed.

If you have a written comment, please consider summarizing it during your oral comments, and then providing the written comments for the record.

Unused time may not be deferred to another commenter.

If time remains before the published meeting end time and each individual who has signed up to comment has had an opportunity to speak, individuals who have already spoken may provide additional comments, and groups wishing to speak collectively may do so at the end.

Speakers are directed to address their comments to the facilitator, recorder and VDGIF/VA Tech/SAC representatives in the front of the room and not to the people in attendance.

Speakers and attendees are expected to be respectful of others, even if you don’t agree with their comments. Catcalls, booing, cheering, and shouting will not be tolerated.

Disruptive, disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated. Failure to adhere by these ground rules by those in attendance may result in removal from the meeting or cancellation prior to the published meeting time.