Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s producer members are closely watching a General Assembly bill that would allow farmers to kill deer, elk or bears that are in the act of damaging their crops or farm property.

SB 868 would allow landowners or their designees to kill, without a state permit, deer, elk or bears in the act of damaging fruit trees, crops, livestock or personal property utilized for commercial agricultural production. The bill also would require that kills be reported to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

The time it takes to apply for and receive a kill permit to protect farm products and property can range from a couple of days to a few weeks, said Wilmer Stoneman, associate director of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

"This bill will allow farmers to kill deer, bears and elk and report it to VDGIF so they don’t have to wait for the crop to be completely destroyed before they do something about the animal. Right now, before getting a permit, the farmer has to have evidence of damage by the animal. That’s just wrong."

DGIF will reintroduce elk into southwest Virginia in the coming months. Elk from Kentucky already are migrating into Virginia.

SB 868 "recognizes that farmers are responsible where wildlife is concerned," said cattle producer Emily Edmondson of Tazewell County. "It allows farmers to prevent damage when it happens. To have to do what we do now and wait for a permit is cumbersome."

Cattle producer Bill Osborne, also of Tazewell, has property that backs up to a state forest. He noted that hungry elk easily can wipe out a field of alfalfa. "We can’t wait to go through all the red tape with the kill permit," he said.

Farm Bureau producer members were in Richmond Jan. 25 to meet with their state senators and delegates about issues of concern. Another wildlife bill they are watching, SB 1017, would require the state game department to seek the authorization of local government prior to the introduction, reintroduction or relocation of wildlife in a locality.

A third bill, SB 1023, would create a statewide fund to compensate farmers for damage done by deer, elk and bears. The fund will come from the sale of licenses to hunt those animals. All funds would have to be used each year for farm damages or donated to support Hunters for the Hungry.

Farm Bureau members also spoke out against SB 850, which would allow hunting on Sunday. "We have consistently stated that we believe Sunday is a day of rest, but also a day for others (besides hunters) to have use of the outdoors," Stoneman said