Farmers, landowners facing a dilemma

Throughout West Virginia, “No Hunting” and “No Trespassing” signs are a common sight. New land uses sometimes encourage this, like small tracts being used for second homes. Larger tracts of acreage can be leased out to elite hunting clubs.

Open land is more prevalent today than farmland. The number of individual farmers in this state has been on the decline for several decades. As game populations increase — whether it be bear, deer, or turkeys — certain access often becomes more restricted. Very seldom does someone who is looking for a place to go hunting come across a sign that says “Hunting by Permission” or “Hunters Welcome.”

The farmers and/or landowners are facing a dilemma. They often ask themselves, ‘If I don’t post my land, I will have people running all over it and taking advantage of me. If I do post my land prohibiting hunting, then I will be overrun by wildlife that will do even more damage.”

It was back in the late 1970s when I recommended to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources that they need start some kind of a program that would encourage good hunter-landowner relations. To some degree, this has been done.

Landowners and others will often post their acreage because of bad experiences from thoughtless people in the past. Examples of this are: trash being left behind, fences torn down, gates left open and careless shooting. Some landowners fear the possibility of a liability lawsuit. At the same time, forbidding hunting access can be an even bigger liability for the landowner.

Deer, for example, can do a considerable amount of economic damage to a farmer’s field crops if the population is not kept in balance with the surrounding habitat. Fur-bearing animals can be devastating to all sorts of acreage if their populations increase without some kind of control.

The word “No” on a restrictive sign is very discouraging. Quite often, a person looking for a place to go hunting will just drive on thinking that stopping here to ask for permission will just simply be a waste of time.

A sign saying “Hunting by Permission” can remove a good bit of the skepticism of the potential hunter driving down the road. n this situation, people are encouraged to stop and talk with the landowner.

If the landowner feels this individual is undesirable, he has the right to refuse access. However, if the person requesting permission to hunt appears to be conscientious, responsible and sincere, the landowner can invite him to help control the wildlife populations.

Good wildlife management requires harvesting surplus animals before they can cause problems. No regulations or law can achieve this without permitting hunters to have access to the land. Hunters need to remember it is the landowners who hold the key to the access. Responsible hunters can control wildlife populations; and working with the landowner, they can accomplish the goal of good wildlife management on private land.

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Sept. 2 will be the statewide youth squirrel hunting day. I would like to wish the best of luck for all adults who will be taking youth under 15 years of age hunting. Here is where adults need to set a good example for young people to follow. Youth hunters age 15-17 need to remember they have to comply with all of the state licensing requirements.

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