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Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Leon Turner's home near Fincastle is a long drive from the nearest foxhound training preserve. Fact is, until recently Turner never had seen one of the 37-such facilities located mostly in Virginia's Southside and southeast sections.
Now he is one of 11 board members of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries who will decide how these facilities are operated in the future, or even if they will exist.
In a hearing last week that lasted more than five hours, the DGIF board proposed more than four pages of new regulations to govern the operation of the preserves.
What it didn't do was move toward banning the facilities, which was sought by animal-right's organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States and PETA.
"We needed some new regulations," said Turner. "I think some good will come from it."
The training preserves debate is the most emotional subject the DGIF board has handled in a long while, yet Turner, who is chairman of the board's wildlife committee, described the latest hearing as "very calm."
Extra rooms with monitors were set up in anticipation of an overflow crowd in the Richmond hearing room, but they weren't needed, which surprised Turner.
The next step is a 60-day public input period, which runs April 2-May 31. During that time, comments will be received online, by email and postal mail and at nine public hearings. Included will be a public input session on April 9 at 6:30 p.m. at Northside High School in Roanoke. In addition to training preserves, other wildlife proposals will be considered at that time. The DGIF board will take a final vote on the proposals June 13. (Check Bill Cochran's Field Reports for more details.)
The proposals directed at the foxhound training preserves put more emphasis on the chase and less on the kill, as should be the case. They include additional escape opportunities for foxes; a seven-day acclimation period for foxes to get used to an enclosure before being hunted; proof that the preserve meets the minimum 100-acre size requirement; a limit on how many hounds can be used, fox trapping standards and a ban on cash or monitory prizes at field trails. Check the DGIF Web site for more details, www.HuntFishVA.com.
The preserve owners and supporters went home with something they can live with, but that wasn't the case for the animal-right's advocates who considered the proposals little more than putting lipstick on a pig.
"I don't think anything would have made them happy except a moratorium," Turner said.
To get a first-hand look at what all the noise is about, Turner recently traveled to Appomattox to see a training preserve.
"I was really surprised," he said, describing what he saw as a high-tech facility and not the ramshackle outfit he had anticipated.
The owner told Turner he had opened the preserve after two of his prize foxhounds were killed on a highway during a hunt.
Advocates of preserves say the enclosures are designed to give sportsmen an opportunity to train hounds safely, away from highways and apart from intrusions on private property where hounds and hunters may be unwelcome in this age of urbanization. The object is to train hounds; not kill foxes, supporters say.
Even many hunters who don't have a dog in the foxhound training fight are supporting the preserves because they believe opponents consider them as a weak link in their effort to chip away at all hunting. What target is next? Hunting bears with hounds? Bowhunting?
This kind of talk antagonizes the animal-right's advocates who say they aren't out to end hunting; rather, to stop what they see as legalized dog fighting that pits one species of canine against another in enclosures.
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