Thursday, October 26, 2006
Bill Cochran's Outdoors: New DGIF chief talks about Sunday hunting
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Advocates of Sunday hunting are wondering if the new executive director of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries will be the ally they had hoped for and need.
Carlton Courter, who was appointed the top DGIF position last week, comes from a strong agriculture background, the kind that has been hostile to Sunday hunting in the past. He has been Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for more than a dozen years. He and his family own a farm that has been in the Courter name since 1737.
Surveys have revealed that residents with rural roots have less love for Sunday hunting than most other citizen groups. The powerful Virginia Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization, has been opposed to Sunday hunting for years, and it underscored that fact the day Courter got the DGIF job.
Here’s what Sunday hunting advocate Todd Barnes said about Courter”
“I’m sure he is a nice guy, but from what I’ve read about him, I do not have a warm, fuzzy [feeling] about his possible stance on Sunday hunting.”
I asked Courter about his position on the controversial issue.
“I haven’t taken a position on Sunday hunting,” he said. “As you know, I will work for the [DGIF] board. The board will determine what their position is.”
In the past, the DGIF board has been cool toward Sunday hunting. In 1999 it even passed a resolution that stated it really didn’t want to discuss the issue, because Sunday hunting is a matter for the General Assembly.
It is true: the DGIF does not have authority to approve Sunday hunting. That is a task of the General Assembly, but legislators weigh heavily the agency’s opinion.
In August, the board decided to take another look at Sunday hunting. Hunting license sales need a boost. What’s more, Sunday hunting frequently was requested by participants in a public input process on increasing hunting license fees.
The DGIF board assigned a committee to draft a questionnaire on Sunday hunting that would go out to 5,000 hunting license buyers. It was to be ready for approval at last week’s board meeting in Richmond, but it didn’t happen. The committee chairman, James Hazel of Oakton, said the group hadn’t meet, but added that it soon would.
Wilmer Stoneman of the Virginia Farm Bureau showed up at the board meeting to reaffirm his group’s opposition to Sunday hunting.
“We oppose Sunday hunting,” he said. “That position is deep in our social background. Our members still believe in going to church on Sunday.”
Even so, the bureau “is working hard to expand hunting opportunities,” Stoneman said. He said that he didn’t see the two as being in conflict.
There may be room for middle ground on the Sunday hunting issue, said Courter.
“The other thing I primarily hear from the farm community is significant crop damage by wildlife, particularly white-tailed deer,” he said. “If we meet in the middle on a goal to manage that population, would that include Sunday hunting? There are several ways you could do it: afternoon hunting only, still hunting without dogs.”
“It’s all about what’s right and wrong,” said Barnes, whose family owns a farm near Pungo. “We should be able to hunt on Sunday no matter what the argument. I feel that if the state just opened it up, there would not be this total crash of the civilized world that everyone against lifting the ban is afraid of.”