Va. wildlife damage hotline taking thousands of calls

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RICHMOND—Wildlife can be beautiful to watch from a distance, but close up it is causing damage for farmers, landowners and even some city dwellers.

The Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline was started in 2013 as a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. It provides landowners and farmers a place to report problems with wildlife on their property.

“It was created to help citizens resolve their conflict with wildlife through education and referrals,” explained Jeff Rumbaugh, Virginia wildlife biologist for USDA APHIS Wildlife Services. Rumbaugh spoke to farmers about wildlife damage management at the Feb. 23 meeting of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Apple and Specialty Crops Advisory Committee. “When someone calls in, those handling the hotline will refer the calls to the right place.”

From fiscal 2014 to 2017, the hotline operators answered 42,358 calls in Virginia, Rumbaugh shared. The numbers have continued to climb each year, with 8,485 calls in 2014, 9,341 calls in 2015, 11,187 calls in 2016 and 13,345 calls in 2017.

“It’s really taken off,” Rumbaugh noted. “May and June is our peak time, and we receive 120 calls a day.”

In 2017 callers had 1,953 complaints about black bears; 1,599 about whitetail deer; 1,051 about raccoons; 830 about red foxes; 536 about coyotes; 513 about woodchucks; 466 about striped skunks; 459 about unidentified birds; and 381 about opossums.

If landowners or farmers encounter a problem with wildlife, they are encouraged to call the toll-free helpline at 855-571-9003. The phones are staffed by wildlife professionals Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Media: Contact Sara Owens, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1133.

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