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Follow the money / May 08, 2013
Dear Viewpoint,

Fox penning as a “sport” has gained some attention in local and state media recently. It involves trapping foxes on public land and transporting them to private pens ranging in size from 100-700 acres for field trials and dog training. For the past twenty-plus years the number of pens has increased in Virginia to over forty. The sport of fox hunting imported from England has a long historical tradition in the South originating with the landed gentry who would assume the appropriate dress and chase the foxes from horse back. Those without fancy dress and horses but with some hounds could also engage in this “sport.” The bay of the hounds in the chase was music to the ears of all regardless of social status and money

Those opposed to this recent change of trapping wild foxes and placing the foxes in pens and who failed to hear/appreciate this symphonic baying of the hounds maintain that the foxes have little chance of surviving when place in pens and that the noise, not music, that the neighbors who live adjacent to the pens is a public nuisance. Recently the Virginia legislature, along with a “yes” vote from Senator Ruff, voted to continue this practice and turned the matter over to the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (DGIF) for recommendations. One recommendation that has been made to regulate the practice is that in the future no prize money will be awarded to winning entrees at the various trials. Since only a small minority of the pen owners offer monetary awards to winners at the trials this does not amount to much of a threat to the pen owners. Pen owners are aware of the new proposed regulations and are good to go with them since most of the changes merely nibble around the edges rather than getting at the heart of the problem.

One important latent aspect of this problem that few have considered, including Senator Ruff and those who voted to continue this “sport” as well as DGIF, is a failure to acknowledge the difference between the public and the private domain. Animals in the wild are considered to be part of the public domain. And therefore, must not be taken for profit. When a fox or any wild animal is taken from the wild and transported to private land a fundamental principal has been violated. It would be similar if someone who owned a large pond was allowed to go to a public lake and trap fish and transport the fish to his private pond and then have a fishing contest and charge those who entered a fee. Or if one were able to go on public land and trap game and take them to market for sale and profit. The fish and the foxes are public property, i.e. part of the public domain and may not be converted to private property for profit.

One reason for the proliferation of fox pens in Virginia may not be the music that this practice provides to the ears of participants but the jingle jangle music of the cash register of pen owners who collect entree fees. Recent ESTIMATES provided by DGIF indicate with an average entree fee of approximately 35.00 charged at a give trial and with about 100 to 200 dogs being entered would amount to a tidy sum of $3,500.00 to $7,000.00 per trial that the pen owner would collect. With pen owners sponsoring and average of four trials a year, the average take would come to approximately $14,000.00 to $28,000.00. With this kind of money at stake, is it any wonder why the recent proliferation of fox pens in Virginia enables fox pen owners to afford collectively to hire lobbyist to go to Richmond and have their way with legislators.

In conclusion, when you take public property and convert it for private profit and gain we have all been robed of our valuable resource.

If the Board at DGIF which is now in the process of revising regulations regarding fox pens is seriously interested in regulating and controlling the recent proliferation of fox pens in Virginia, then consider taking the skin out of the game and then see what happens.

Bernard Champa

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