More Virginians seeking help for conflicts with wildlife
Black bears, deer, foxes, racoons, geese, vultures and coyotes continue to be a problem for Virginia’s farmers. They often eat crops and create ruts in fields, or prey on livestock, killing sheep, calves, goats and chickens.
Anyone experiencing an issue with wildlife has a resource at their fingertips—the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline. “We knew wildlife issues were increasing because the human populations were increasing,” said Jennifer Cromwell, assistant state director for USDA Wildlife Services Program. She spoke at a June 4 Wildlife Interactions Workshop at Virginia State University.
“We wanted to see how we could help,” she explained. “A lot of times callers got passed around, and there was inconsistent messaging. So we consolidated, and this helps save time.”
The hotline is a joint effort of USDA Wildlife Services and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Established in 2013, it has received more than 57,000 calls. In fiscal year 2014 a total of 8,485 calls were answered, and in fiscal year 2018 there were 14,950 calls.
“More people are aware of the hotline now, and the populations of species also are increasing,” Cromwell said.
The top localities from which the hotline received calls about wildlife concerns are the counties of Henrico, Chesterfield, Fairfax, Prince William, Hanover, Bedford and Roanoke and the cities of Richmond and Chesapeake. The most problematic species were black bears, with 2,348 calls; white-tailed deer, with 1,684 calls; racoons, 1,179 calls; red foxes, 1,009 calls; and coyotes, 580 calls.
“In addition to being a resource for people seeking assistance with wildlife conflicts, the hotline is a valuable source for data collection,” said Stefanie Kitchen, assistant director of governmental relations forVirginia Farm Bureau Federation. “It’s important for farmers to take the time to report crop and livestock damage so that our wildlife agencies know where to focus their efforts.”
Anyone experiencing an issue with wildlife on their property—whether they live in a rural, suburban or urban area—can call toll free at 855-571-9003.
Additionally, Chad Forehand, coordinator of USDA Wildlife Services’ Feral Swine Project, encouraged participants in the VSU workshop to report feral pig activity to the wildlife hotline. Any pig that is not claimed by someone is feral, he noted, and classified as a nuisance animal.
Feral swine can cause extensive damage to farm fields and animals, and if they have food, water and shelter and no pressure to move, they will take up residence.
Forehand said the Feral Swine Project’s goal is to map out where feral pigs are located and address the problems, including testing them for diseases that could have an impact on livestock.