Senate passes bill targeting black vultures

Senators voted 39-1 for a bill that would exempt the black vulture from its current protection. (PHOTO CREDIT: Capital News Service)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/CNS) – 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, seeks to exempt the black vulture from its current protection by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. It also would prohibit the department from using any state resources to enforce federal rules that protect the black vulture.

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, which are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 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.”

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.”

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.’ ”

Capital News Service is a student-operated news reporting program sponsored by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.

For more Virginia General Assembly coverage, visit the In the Rotunda section.

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