It is no secret that the American people are losing faith in their government. This is true at the federal and state level. But, what about our local government? Do most county residents feel they are getting a fair shake from our county leaders? I have been inclined to think that we are better off than most. I want to believe that we have people who mean well and have the interests of all the county citizens uppermost in their mind when they make decisions. There are times when we need more public input, and maybe I haven’t been doing my job as a citizen as well as I might. Following is an example of what’s on my mind.
At the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors’ February meeting the board agreed to send a letter to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in Richmond recommending that Rappahannock be an “Earn A Buck” (EAB) county. Briefly, what that means is that deer hunters can take only one antlered deer and then must kill one or more females before they can take another buck. This program is used to force hunters to kill more female deer in an effort to reduce the overall deer herd. The logic is that if you kill a mature doe that takes three deer out of next year’s herd, as mature does usually produce two fawns. If you kill a male that results in only one deer that is removed from next year’s herd.
I had a conversation with Roger Welch about this. Roger is the chairman of the board of supervisors. He confirmed that the board took such action. I asked him if the board had any input from the public, or solicited any public comment. He said the board had not solicited any public comment on this specific item, but did inform me that the agenda of all board meetings was posted in various places, including online, and that the board meetings are open to the public. Fair enough.
I asked Roger if he or the board was aware that Fauquier, Shenandoah, Franklin and Patrick counties had recently opted out of the EAB program because of declining deer populations. He said they were not aware of that.
I asked him if it was made known at the board meeting that DGIF is predicting a 20 percent drop in the deer harvest for the deer season just ended. He said it was not.
I asked Roger what, then, had the board used as a basis for its decision. Roger said the decision was based on the increasing size of the deer herd.
While Roger and I did not discuss it, it is also true that the extended deer season in neighboring Fauquier County which was in effect for several years was dropped this year because of the declining deer population. In addition, it is no secret that DGIF is considering reducing the number of days does can be legally taken, presumably for the same reason. DGIF confirmed to me that they fully expect the deer kill for the season just ended to reflect an approximate 20 percent drop in deer harvested. If DGIF reduces the number of doe days and enacts the EAB program for Rappahannock as recommended by the board, it is likely to have the exact opposite effect the board is shooting for. (Pun intended.)
Here’s how that might work. If a hunter takes an antlered deer on day one of the hunting season, the EAB program would require him to take one (or more) female deer before he can take another buck. If DGIF reduces the number of doe days, that hunter would not be able to deer hunt at all until the next legal doe day. Hunting days lost result in no deer being taken. Whose interest does that serve?
While DGIF would not release any deer harvest numbers for the county, from all indications the deer population is dropping like a stone. Other counties see this and are opting out of the EAB program. Other counties are shortening their deer seasons. DGIF sees the problem and is considering restricting the number of days that does can be taken. In the midst of all this, we send a letter to DGIF requesting that our county be placed in the EAB program. Say what? Hopefully, we will get some explanation for this action, and the basis upon which they made this decision. Hopefully.
I asked Roger if this proposal came from a specific board member and he said no, it was John McCarthy’s recommendation following discussions with DGIF. I asked Roger if DGIF recommended Rappahannock be an EAB county. He said he wasn’t sure, but he thought so. I told him that it was my understanding that DGIF normally does not take a position one way or the other on EAB, but, rather, makes known to the county that this program is available to them if they wish to make a recommendation to DGIF. He said he would get back to me on that. He said that if there wasn’t strong opinion on the board one way or the other, they usually did what John recommended.
I fully realize that we are an agrarian county. I am grateful for that. We have lots of good farmers and orchardists in the county, and for that I am grateful, as well. Is it possible that those interests are weighted too heavily on the board of supervisors? Do you wonder, sometimes, if the voice of the little people is being heard and considered? I don’t know the answer. I’ll leave you to ponder that. It just might be that if we don’t have any experts in the field of game management on the board of supervisors, perhaps we would be better off to leave that to the folks at DGIF. Or else we need to know who is advising our representatives and officials on game management and help to enlighten them. As a point of related information, I have also been told, and Roger said he had heard it as well, that neighboring Warren County has authorized a bounty on coyotes.
One last thing: I don’t mean to beat up on Roger Welch. I called him because he is my representative on the board. I appreciate his service to the county. I have known Roger since we were little fellows, and I used to walk over to his house to mow the lawn. As an aside, his brother, Bill, told me it was Roger who used to throw rocks at me while I was mowing. (I am guessing that about now he wishes he had hit me with a slightly bigger rock.) But that was many moons ago and of no consequence now. As I stated earlier, I think, for the most part, the board has the best interests of the county at heart, and I think they do the best they can.
If you ask me, however, I believe this particular question and the decision process the board used could have benefited from a bit of extra effort at soliciting public comment and a closer look at other counties’ experience with the EAB program. But that, as the big lion on the sign at the grocery store says, is just my two cents worth.