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From Lynchburg News Op Ed

HSUS attacks Dog Hunting

Virginia an easy prey for animal rights group who intend to not only shut down preserves, but also to attack dog owners, hunt clubs, fur trappers and wild game hunters. (HSUS website – hunting with dogs).

Nothing will suit the animal rights groups except closing Virginia Fox Preserves.  Why start with Virginia? Virginia has become a very urban urban state with an ever-turning population who knows extremely little about the rural area.  Most believe what they are fed to them through expensive TV and radio ads that ask for dollars to save whatever raises the most money for them.  Currently it is “save the foxes.”  Supposidly the group’s goal is to place a moratorium on the practice, however in many other statements both printed and verbal, several goals include closing all preserves down, end hunting with dogs and closing hunt clubs.

Going back to the preserve study in 2002-2004, the survival of a fox in a preserve was less than the percent of the survival in the wild.  While the results were not analyzed until 9 years later, the mortality rates are not typical of today’s preserves as they are managed under significantly improved permit requirements. Owners and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries have made vast efforts to ensure that the survival rate of a fox in a preserve meets or exceeds the survival rate of one in the wild. Survival rates and other statistics are included in the attachment to Senator Marsden from the Secretary of Natural Resources, Doug Domenech.  

Major improvements in the preserve designs do not always prevent a bad actor. In 2007, due to the report of an illegal activity, DGIF law enforcement made unannounced visits to all of the preserve sites.  Many preserves had some sort of minor offense. Most were due to items such as incorrect paperwork.  However, one preserve owner, along with suspects from South Carolina, was charged with felonies due to importing foxes and coyotes from across state lines.  However, within a very short period of time almost all of the other preserves were immediately re-permitted after the paperwork had been righted. Additionally, most of their charges were either withdrawn or reduced to a fine. 

Due to the 2007 so called “raid”, Virginia’s permitting requirements became very stringent and each permit can be reviewed by the public. This includes, but is not limited to,
  •  Increased ratio to one dog per every two acres
  • Increased acclimation time for foxes to know their territory
  • Decrease in number of foxhounds per acre that can be trained or trialed
  • Additional requirements for fencing
  • Increased reporting by both trappers and preserve owners
Foxhound preserves are important to rural Virginians who train their dogs to hunt, compete and have them return to their owners after to the hunt.  The better trained, the fewer that die on the highway or disrupt owners land including encroaching developments. This also applies to the redcoats whose hounds need to be trained to compete. The foxhound preserve owners unanimously agreed on a set of best management practices to guide all preserves (BMP attached) 

During the 2007 closure process and since the foxes were let out of the pens, a restocking occurred increasing the number of foxes needed to be trapped.  Coyotes, while overpopulated in Virginia, are under no circumstances allowed in a preserve.

The action of a coyote is very different from a fox in that they move on the ground and are an easy prey.  On the other hand, a fox is truly sly and wily.  In addition to the required manmade escape hatches filled with food, mange control, vitamins and water, foxes immediately begin to make some very creative escape holes.  Secondly, foxes are not only tree climbers; they are also very good at “playing dead” which confuses the hounds. Beginning in 2011 a shameful video provided to and publicized by radio and TV stations grossly and intentionally mislead viewers into thinking that the screams of a coyote in South Carolina was a Virginia fox in a Virginia preserve. Not so. The news media is now seeing that they been duped by the HSUS who is providing the deceiving commercial.  Most realize that this video and others like it are major distortions provided by HSUS and have nothing to do with Virginia preserves.

Prior to to the improvements made in the new set of regulations, Virginia has had one of the most stringent permitting requirements in the nation. Only 3 states have maximum hound density requirements. Only 3 states have Virginia’s acclimation requirements and only one state requires more escape areas.  All Virginia reserve owners agree that there is always room for improvement, but defer to science to determine additional preserve requirements. Yet these owners are being labeled uncivilized, unchristian savages engaged in dog and cock fighting just because they are rural.

HSUS says that the majority of the state has no idea that this savage practice is going on.  First, calling preserves “savage” is a term that HSUS likes to use to emit fear.   Virginia is a very different state among others with fox preserves.   Virginia is one of the two states in the nation with a 50% population turnover. The overwhelming population is now in Northern Virginia, Tidewater, Richmond and its surrounding area. Lynchburg and Roanoke are following close behind.  Due to increased population in these areas, more land is being put into developments encroaching on the rural space.  One measurement of urban growth is that at least 90 of the 140 Virginia General Assembly members represent a whole or a major part of these urban centers. This makes Virginia an easy prey for animal rights group who intend to not only shut down preserves, but also to attack dog owners, hunt clubs, fur trappers and wild game hunters. (HSUS website – hunting with dogs).

Senate bills introduced by an urbanite in Northern Virginia have been intended to prohibit state and national foxhound trials currently held in Virginia preserves. These bills also unscientifically mandate reducing the number of foxhounds allowed in a preserve. In 2012 this sort of legislation was defeated both in the House and Senate Committees. In 2013 the bill passed in the Senate combining 100% of the Democratic votes and 3 urban Virginia votes against fox preserves. Why is Virginia targeted by HSUS, ASPCA, PETA, Best Friends Animal Society, Alley Cats and others? Other states with training preserves have limited urban population and more legislators who understand rural settings including fox preserves.  Preserve owners continue to invite many legislators to attend a trial and learn of their importance to rural Virginia.  None have attended.  This lack of desire to understand “rural” does not bode well for hunters in general.

Again, Virginia is an easy target for so called animal rights groups and a way for them to get membership dollars. In a recent Lynchburg News and Advance article though, Makena Yarbrough, Lynchburg Humane Society, wrote an op-ed to disassociate local humane societies from HSUS, ASPCA, PETA, Best Friends Animal Society, Alley Cats and others who place "sad commercials," on television and yet have no ties to local organizations.  Neither do these organizations donate funds to local humane societies or animal shelters.  Yarbrough states that "We are all independent nonprofits with our own boards, raising funds for our own programs and operations."  Yarbrough also states that “HSUS has offices in Washington D.C. and Maryland.  It doesn't operate a shelter.  It doesn't offer grants to local groups and all of the money funds their operations.  The ASPCA is a private organization in New York City.  It offers grants to smaller organizations but very little compared to the millions they raise each year. And PETA, based out of Norfolk, is fanatical in its stand regarding animal sheltering and is a no kill movement all together."  With all of its billions, the PETA placed only 23 animals, yet took in 2,000. Yarbrough concludes that contributors should look to their local shelters.  "When you give locally, your money stays locally." 

Virginia preserves do give back to the community. "In addition to providing safe, high quality dog training opportunities, foxhound training preserves also provide economic benefits to local economies.  Field trial events often attract large numbers of hunters from throughout Virginia and surrounding states, which benefit local business owners in the vicinity of the preserve (hotels, restaurants, retail stores, etc).  Many preserves also host “benefit hunts” that raise proceeds for local charities or children with special medical needs.

Virginia is a very sophisticated state that should not become a New York, a California and other state against the 2nd amendment and hunting rights in general.  It is a state based on a long history of rural beginnings and should maintain that understanding of and the respect for the rural population and their base.