VDGIF Amendments: The Results of the Bear Reduction Proposal

On Wednesday, May 24, I attended the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries board meeting in Richmond, Virginia. One of the items on their agenda was voting on the black bear reduction proposal that was put forth in March. That proposal included amending several hunting regulations to reduce the bear population as much as 25% in some regions; the proposal noted that while the bear population has been stable and growing (by design), the cultural carrying capacity (the number of bears people actually want around) has changed, indicating a decrease in public tolerance for bears during the past five years. Before changing any regulations, there was a six-week open public comment period.

I attended the meeting so I could provide one last comment on behalf of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, since there was an open comment period at the meeting before the board's vote. The meeting was very detailed and a lot of information was covered; the bear proposal was just one item on the agenda (you can read the complete agenda here). It was interesting watching the proceedings; VDGIF staff provided a summary of the proposed changes in each section, as well as a summary of comments received online; the board then had time to ask questions and the floor was given to any citizens or organizations who wished to comment one more time. Several items on the agenda dealt with changing the wording in a regulation to make it more clear; one proposed amendment was eliminating "domestic fox" language from a definition, which closed a loophole that allowed people to keep red foxes as pets. (It passed). It was a contentious issue, but less than 20 public comments were received during the six week period. Other regulation proposals received anywhere from 10 - 50 comments, according to the summaries provided by VDGIF staff.

When it was time to run through the bear section, VDGIF staff noted that more than 2,000 people/organizations commented on the bear proposal -- more input than any other proposal, historically. Within those comments, more than 10,800 values were identified, in 126 categories. Overwhelmingly, the key values that were identified in the comments (which generally were opposed to the 25% reduction) included a strong emphasis on increased public education, including how to be "bear aware", avoid bear-human conflict, and to keep bears wild. In general, 1405 people were opposed and 74 were in favor of the reduction. Many supporters of the Wildlife Center submitted comments; thanks so much for taking part!

Due to the overwhelming response, the staff came into the meeting with an amended recommendation that had bear reduction (through harvest) at a lower target -- a uniform 12 percent reduction (over five years). About 10 people (including me) provided additional comment before the board took the three hunting regulations to a vote. Two of the proposed amendments were passed (staff recommended), the other was not. In the end, the Board voted to expand the bear-hunting season, but at a lower level than the original proposal.

To me, it was an interesting insight into how regulations are made and changed; it absolutely emphasized the importance of speaking up and making your voice heard. Wildlife belongs to all of us, and if we have opinions on how wildlife is managed, we should take part in our state's process.

The Wildlife Center will continue to educate the public on how to co-exist with bears and a variety of other wildlife. There are many things that we can do to all reduce bear-human conflict; if you live in Virginia, you live in bear country! Learn more and spread the word. 

--Amanda Nicholson
Director of Outreach