Each and every intrusion on your farm, whether invited or not, is a breach in your bio-security.
William M. Sims, Jr.
Hunting dogs could be carrying disaster to Maryland's poultry farmers.
Accomack County Virginia's only Eastern Shore
jurisdiction that still allows deer hunting with dogs.
And the debate between some residents who find the dogs
annoying and hunters trying to maintain an age-old
tradition is nothing new.
What is new is the highly contagious and economically
devastating Avian influenza -- a disease that rapidly
wipes out poultry by the millions though it's not
harmful to humans. Avian flu has been found in several
mid Atlantic states. In Virginia, the disease has cost
the poultry industry $114 million, according to Sen.
George Allen (R-Va.). More than 4.4 million birds have
Accomack County is located near the Maryland-Virginia
line. And dogs that step in bird droppings from poultry,
waterfowl, or wild birds -- a highly likely scenario in
this region -- could trek the disease onto area poultry
Hunters and their packs of dogs are ideally contained on
privately owned hunt club lands. Hunters pay membership
fees for the privilege of using the lands.
But some poultry farmers say enforcing boundaries is
impossible and, come hunting season, they'll be chasing
dogs -- and potentially Avian flu -- off their farms.
At least two of the nine members of the county board of
supervisors have vested financial interests in deer
hunting with dogs, and some residents suspect other
county officials are reaping monetary benefits from dog
clubs as well. The most recent county vote was no
surprise: dogs are allowed. But extra attention will be
paid to enforcing boundary rules.
Poultry farmer Janet Outten said her blood pressure is
up. "I am so upset and disgusted. We don't mind the
hunting. We just don't want the dogs."
Even with increased numbers of game wardens, Outten said
there's little chance they'll be able to keep the dogs
from straying off hunt club land. "Some people even
proposed putting beepers on the dogs. Give me a break."
Another vote may be scheduled for September.
Outten and others might have good reason to stew. Dogs
that run loose are, frankly, a risk, according to
William M. Sims, Jr., Virginia's state veterinarian.
"Each and every intrusion on your farm, whether invited
or not, is a breach in your bio-security," he stated.
Although visits from or connected with other poultry
farms and their vehicles pose the greatest risk of
disease, cats and dogs "that roam or run loose could
also be a risk."
It's a risk that many in Maryland's poultry industry
would rather not take. In Maryland, agriculture is still
the largest industry, and poultry is its largest sector,
said Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva
Poultry Industry, Inc. (DPI), a nonprofit trade
association working on behalf of the broiler chicken
industry in Delaware, the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and
the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
On the Delmarva Peninsula, there are some 20,000 people
directly employed by the poultry industry. Some 2,900
farming families grow chickens. "There are a lot of jobs
at stake." Add the hundreds of businesses that supply
products to the poultry industry, and "everyone really
has a stake."
In Maryland, broilers alone accounted for 32 percent or
about $480 million of all farm revenue last year. In
addition, the bulk of the grain grown in Maryland goes
to the poultry industry for use as chicken feed.
DPI and other industry organizations have been putting a
greater emphasis on bio-security, said Satterfield.
Dr. Fidelis Hegngi, Maryland's assistant state
veterinarian, said when a rapidly spreading disease like
Avian flu hits, it tends to make everyone remember how
important prevention is. "When something like this
happens, it heightens prevention measures."
As other industries have adopted bio-security measures
in the wake of Sept. 11, the agriculture industry is
perfecting measures it's had for years. "We do that
every day. We do a lot of monitoring for disease."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is finalizing
guidelines for poultry companies and growers to follow
which will outline the risks associated with introducing
new flocks in an area where avian flu is present.
Maryland Hagner R. Mister issued an official order to
prevent the introduction of contagious or infectious
diseases into Maryland. It prohibits the gathering of
poultry at auctions, marketplaces, fairs, exhibitions,
shows, or other events in the state. But it doesn't say
anything about dogs.
For deer hunters and their dogs, what's at stake is the
freedom to honor an age-old tradition. "I don't think
the actions of a few careless hunters should ruin it for
everyone else," stated Lawrence E. Seaman III, a
commercial fisherman. "With this said, I think dog
hunters and their clubs should rethink memberships and
hunting methods before it causes them to lose something
Some club owners said they hope better enforcement of
rules would solve the problem. "Our club membership is
mostly made up of farmers, business owners, and working
people from Maryland," stated Buddy Clogovics of the
Horntown, VA Hunt Club. "We welcome the increased
enforcement from the game wardens and hope to work with
them more closely to register our club members so they
can identify the lawbreakers more easily."
Club owners also said their business supports the local
economy through land rentals, veterinary care, dog food
and supplies, licenses, and hunting supply purchases.
Some clubs also donate deer to local food banks along
with funds to have deer processed.
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