By James Miessler
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – The black vulture of Virginia has found itself in the crosshairs of legislation passed by the Senate this week.
Senate Bill 37, sponsored by Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, would authorize the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to make agreements with government agencies and with farmers and other people to control the black vulture population.
The Senate voted 39-1 on Wednesday in favor of the bill. The lone dissenter was Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath. SB 37 now goes to the House of Delegates for consideration.
Carrico said the vultures have become a menace to farmers and their livelihoods.
“I was contacted by farmers from my district located in Lee County,” Carrico said in an e-mail. “They reported that the vultures were coming down and attacking the newborn calves.”
Carrico explained that many calves are unable to move for a few days after being born, almost giving the impression that they are dead or dying – which means they look like a meal to the vultures.
“This is a very common occurrence on cattle farms,” Carrico said. “The black vultures were coming down and plucking out the eyes and tearing out the guts of the calves while they laid there.”
Black vultures currently are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and by state law. Carrico’s original bill sought to prohibit the game department from using any state resources to enforce federal rules that protect the black vulture. However, that provision was removed by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.
The version of SB 37 passed by the Senate would add black vultures to an existing provision of state law allowing the game department to seek assistance controlling wildlife that poses a threat to agricultural animals. The bill also would instruct the agency to work with the federal government on a cooperative wildlife damage management program.
Although his bill would legalize shooting black vultures, it doesn’t mean an all-out massacre of the birds, Carrico said.
“This is not a bill that would grant open season on vultures,” Carrico said. “The farmers simply wanted to be able to get a permit that says they can shoot the vultures endangering their livestock. The bill will only grant permission to kill the vultures if the farmer has a problem with them regarding his livestock. The farmer will also have to have a permit. I realize that vultures provide a service in nature, so this does not mean I do not think they should be protected.”
Black vultures are saprovores, usually feeding on dead, organic matter.
Marlene Condon, a nature writer and former field editor for Birds & Blooms magazine, isn’t convinced.
“I’m against this bill because the vultures are not at fault – the farmers are,” Condon said. “They’ve created unnatural conditions that have caused black vultures to themselves behave unnaturally by taking live animals.”
Condon believes that the solution is to change human behavior and that killing the vultures is out of the question.
“We’re in the 21st century, for goodness sake,” Condon said. “We should know better than to think we should kill animals when we could just change the way we do things.”
Condon noted the importance of vultures to the environment, as well as the dangers of not having them around.
“They mostly recycle putrefying remains that are so loaded with bacteria that feeding upon them would kill – not just sicken – most other kinds of animals, including humans,” Condon said. “When vulture populations plummeted in South Asia, it led to a rise in infectious diseases and a proliferation of rats as a result of carcasses left to rot on the ground.”
Condon chalked the bill and its supporters up to ignorance, quoting one of the Founding Fathers.
“As Ben Franklin said: ‘Being ignorant is not so much as a shame, as being unwilling to learn. We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.’ ”