Virginia: Active Session for the Virginia Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus

Contact: John Culclasure, Southeastern States Assistant Director

Under the leadership of Senator Emmett Hanger and Delegate James Edmunds, the Virginia Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus (Caucus) met regularly during the 2020 legislative session to discuss issues impacting sportsmen and women in the Commonwealth. 

Over the course of the session, the Caucus held eight meetings where Caucus members heard presentations from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, the Virginia Department of Forestry, and various sportsmen’s conservation groups on topics including chronic wasting disease; coastal fisheries, oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay; hunter recruitment, retention and reactivation; Hunters for the Hungry; waterfowl management; land conservation; and public lands habitat work.

The 2020 regular session was a busy session for sportsmen’s-related legislation. While there was a significant increase in the number of anti-sportsmen’s bills introduced compared to prior years, a number of pro-sportsmen’s bills were signed into law. This article highlights pro-sportsmen’s legislation, and a subsequent article will explore anti-sportsmen’s legislation from Virginia’s 2020 session.

Director of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

On February 5, SJR 71 unanimously passed the House of Delegates 96-0 to confirm Ryan Brown as the Executive Director of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Brown was appointed by the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries (Board) last year and succeeds Bob Duncan who served for 11 years. 

Commending the Loudoun Hunt

On February 11, HR 60 passed the House to commend the Loudoun Hunt in celebration of its 125th anniversary in 2019. Fox hunting with hounds has a rich history in the Commonwealth, and the resolution recognizes the importance of the Loudoun Hunt to Virginia’s sporting traditions. 

Menhaden Fishery Management 

On March 8, legislation was signed into law that transfers authority to manage Atlantic menhaden from the legislature to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. Menhaden are important forage food for many recreationally important species, and the legislation will enable the Commonwealth to comply with the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Atlantic menhaden after the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission found the Commonwealth out of compliance with Amendment 3 of the FMP for its failure to enforce the Chesapeake Bay Fishery Cap. Secretary Ross subsequently affirmed the noncompliance finding, and the legislation was necessary to avoid a moratorium on fishing for Atlantic menhaden in Virginia state waters. 

Special License to Hunt Elk 

On March 12, legislation that authorizes the Board to create a separate special elk license to hunt elk within the designated elk management zone was signed into law. Caucus Co-Chair Delegate James Edmunds sponsored the legislation which also authorizes the Board to establish quotas and procedures to purchase a special elk license and authorizes the Board to charge nonrefundable application fees for residents and nonresidents. 

Unlawful Hunting, Fishing, or Trapping 

On March 12, legislation that increases the penalties for various hunting, angling and trapping violations was signed into law. Sponsored by Caucus Member Delegate Hyland Fowler, HB 449 provides that any person convicted of violating laws prohibiting hunting or fishing out of season, hunting while under the influence of alcohol or any narcotic drug, shooting from vehicles and various other wildlife related violations, may be prohibited by the court from hunting, trapping or fishing in the Commonwealth for a period of one to five years. 

Senior Resident Lifetime Hunting Licenses

On March 31, legislation was signed into law that directs the Board to provide a basic senior resident lifetime hunting license and bear, deer, and turkey license for $200. HB 1272 requires the resident to be 80 years of age. The license will be valid for the lifetime of the license holder even if the license holder becomes a nonresident of the Commonwealth after purchasing the license. 

Hunting Restrictions

On April 2, legislation was signed into law that prohibits big game guaranteed kills. Specifically, under the legislation it is unlawful to “offer for sale, sell, offer to purchase, or purchase a hunt guaranteeing the killing of a deer, bear, or wild turkey.” The bill was amended to remove language prohibiting charging a fee to killing a deer, bear, or wild turkey, and the bill was also amended to remove a prohibition against leasing land for hunting for less than three days. 

Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

On April 9, legislation that renames the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries as the Department of Wildlife Resources was approved by the Governor. The legislation also changes the name of the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries to the Board of Wildlife Resources. 

Public Lands Sunday Hunting 

A priority bill for the Virginia sportsmen’s community that did not advance this session was HB 1632 which would have allowed Sunday hunting on public lands. The legislation was sponsored by Caucus Co-Chair Delegate James Edmunds. Specifically, the bill would have expanded the exception to public lands on the prohibition against hunting or killing any wild bird or wild animal, including nuisance species, with a gun, firearm or other weapon on a Sunday. Hunting deer or bear with the assistance of dogs on a Sunday would have still been prohibited. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) and partners supported the legislation, and CSF will continue to work on this issue moving forward.

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Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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