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Fox pens ok by state law

GATESVILLE – It appears that the Gates County Board of Commissioners have no say in the decision-making process when it comes to establishing a “fox pen” (hunting area/preserve) within the county’s borders.

After hearing last month from opponents of a fox pen planned for 244 acres of land near Tyler Road north of Gates between NC 37 and US 13, the county commissioners searched for answers for what, if any, role they would possibly play in approving or disapproving of this fox pen.

The answer came from the UNC School of Government. In answering an email from Lisa Cherry, Gates County’s Planning Director, Adam Lovelady, Associate Professor of Public Law and Government at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Lovelady wrote that the land use issue for fox hunting preserves falls under the bona fide farm exemption. A fox pen is a large plot of fenced-in land that hunters use to train their dogs, typically using foxes or coyotes as the quarry.

“As you know, bona fide farm activities are exempt from county land use regulations,” Lovelady wrote in his email to Cherry. “Agritourism and agritourism buildings are included under the broad umbrella of bona fide farm activities. And, this year, the General Assembly amended the definition of agritourism to include hunting. With that, it seems likely that operating a licensed fox hunting preserve will qualify under the bona fide farm exemption and county land use regulations will not apply.”

Lovelady added that licensing for fox hunting preserves is handled by the state, specifically the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission that enforces regulations on those types of areas.

“When you are dealing with something of this nature, you have to deal with the party who has the authority to make any decisions on it,” stated County Commissioner Jack Owens at last week’s scheduled meeting of the board.

Like Owens, County Commissioner Dr. Althea Riddick said she has also heard from opponents of the planned fox pen near Gates.

“When I read this [email from Lovelady], we now know who regulates, who permits fox pens,” Riddick said. “We now know that we do not permit, we do not license, we don’t have any authority to regulate fox pens.

“You have to follow the law, you have to follow the [state] statutes,” Riddick continued. “Gates County is aware of the issues with fox pens. We know that people with private property have the right to develop that property within lawful means. I would hope that we can be good neighbors and not let this issue become divisive. We are concerned; we have looked at this issue, but we don’t have any leeway to change this statute.”

“The people who live there [near the planned fox pen] have expressed the most concern,” Owens noted. “This state statute does not favor them. I would recommend that a spokesperson come out of that community and approach one of the partners of that fox pen and see if there is some concession that they might be willing to do to make it a more neighborly situation.”

“We have researched this and we don’t have the power to do anything,” said Commissioner Linda Hofler, adding that this latest fox pen will be the eighth such hunting preserve in Gates County.

At the July meeting of the county commissioners, several landowners in the Tyler Road area expressed their concerns about the planned fox pen. They cited a negative impact on their property values, noise from barking dogs during the day and night, and safety concerns should a wild fox or coyote escape from inside the pen, which allegedly may lead to the spread of rabies.

At the close of last week’s meeting, one of the opponents expressed his displeasure with the commissioners not taking a position on the matter. He mentioned the possibility of hiring a lawyer to further study what he saw as safety and noise issues with fox pens.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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