Wildlife Officials Propose Regulations to Help Manage Hunter / Landowner Conflicts 

State wildlife officials recently voted to open a comment period for two proposed regulations that could manage how hunting dogs are allowed to enter private property, and made several other recommendations.

The Department of Wildlife Resources presented on March 20 several proposals drawn from the work of the Hound-Hunters & Private Landowners Stakeholder Advisory Committee, which began in March last year. The University of Virginia’s Institute for Engagement and Negotiation helped gather data with the committee and presented its final report to the board.

The Board of Wildlife Resources made seven proposals. Two of the recommendations will have a 45-day public comment period.

The Board wants to hear from the public about a proposal to require use of GPS dog collars for any dog used in deer or bear hunting, if the animal is not already restrained. These collars are estimated to cost between $250 to $350.

Another proposed regulation up for debate would require a hunter to exercise “reasonable efforts” to prevent dogs from entering a landowner’s property if either the landowner or a conservation police officer has stated that the dogs are not welcomed there.

Other proposals made included hiring and better training for conservation police officers, prohibiting hunting outside of open season and enhancing education efforts.

DWR has attempted to balance the state’s long history of dog hunting with the rights of property owners as tension has escalated in recent years. The agency has a collection of studies going back to 2008 on potential solutions to help with conflicts between the two groups.

The growing concern has mostly been the presence of hunting dogs on land where they are not wanted, something that has happened more often as land ownership patterns change and the state population increases.

A hound hunting permit is one possibility floated a few times in the General Assembly but never passed.

Budget amendments were submitted in the House and Senate during the 2024 session, to create a permit system by Oct. 31. The proposed license cost was $18, on par with other hunting license fees, according to Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax.

Marsden created the Senate budget amendment and has previously introduced legislation. The General Assembly passed the final budget and sent it to the governor without the permit language included.

Marsden also introduced Senate Bill 712 this year, which would keep hunters from releasing dogs within 15 feet of the edge of a state or local roadway. The bill included a misdemeanor charge, with an increasing penalty for subsequent violations. The bill had split support, and Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears cast the tie-breaking vote that killed the bill.

Marsden sees the matter as a public safety issue that pits people against each other if hunters “don’t care where they release their hounds.”

“So I guess that means that we’re socialists,” Marsden said. “We think everybody ought to be able to use anybody’s property without their permission.”

Robbie Shackelford, with the Newtown Hunt Club, has hunted for over 45 years. He believes the state’s right to retrieve law should be upheld. Virginia and Minnesota are the only states with a law that allows hunters to access private property to retrieve hunting dogs.

“We as hound hunters treat our dogs like children and I have the right to go retrieve my children when they get in a place I don’t want them to be,” Shackelford said.

Hunting is a way of life for rural Virginia, but it is the people from Northern Virginia who don’t like it, Shackleford said. “But are we to stop what we’re doing because one percent of the population in a rural area has got some issues?” he said. “To me, that’s not fair.”

This past hunting season, DWR followed up on hound hunting complaints in “hotspot” areas. They made 2,744 hunter contacts and found 128 violations. Most were handled with a warning, and 34 received a summons.

“Why is the number so low on citations?” said a Prince George landowner who identified himself as Richard Tetterton at the DWR meeting. “Because you don’t have laws that are enforceable.”

Problems will continue until laws are put in place that allow the DWR officers to make arrests, according to Tetterton. “We have a proverbial intersection where everybody keeps having wrecks, but the local government and the government don’t want to do a thing about it until somebody dies,” Tetterton said. “That’s what you’re dealing with.”

Jim Medeiros, a stakeholder in DWR’s advisory committee, has experienced hunting dogs disturbing his animals, as a private landowner and farmer. A cow was giving birth in a pasture when a pack of hounds came onto his property and interrupted the birth, he said.

“So I’m literally standing over the calf as cows were running back and forth, trying to make sure they go around me and nobody accidentally steps on this calf,” Medeiros said.

Medeiros is currently fighting a lawsuit against DWR and the constitutionality of Virginia’s right to retrieve law. Medeiros said he has nothing against hunting, “in any way, shape or form . . . But when a person can override private property rights, you can say I’m going to do on your property what I wish to do and you can say nothing about it,” Medeiros said. “That’s not what our constitution is about.”

Members of the public will be able to comment on the two proposed hunting regulations once the forum is open.

DWR is wrapping up some administrative housekeeping and expects to have things ready in the next few weeks, according to public information officer Shelby Crouch. The department will then notify the public about the process.

The Board of Wildlife Resources encouraged people to participate in the comment period, “whichever side of the issue you may be on.”

Once the comment period ends, the Board will meet to decide if they adopt the hunting regulations.

By Shelby Warren / Capital News Service

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