Parkhurst offers answers on human-wildlife interactions

What do you do when a black bear ventures into your yard to dine on some leftovers in your trash can? What if you spot a beaver carrying away trees at a local park? What should you do when a skunk strolls across your path?

Few people know the answers to these questions, but Jim Parkhurst, associate professor of wildlife in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, is looking to change that.

   

Jim Parkhurst Jim Parkhurst, associate professor of wildlife in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, says one goal of his work is to try to "ensure that wildlife and humans can coexist in relative harmony." In his hands is a "scare eye," an inflatable ball designed to scare birds away from property.

As incidents of human-wildlife interaction in Virginia continue to increase, such as bear encounters in Roanoke County and beaver vandalism at Radford’s Bisset Park, Parkhurst and others are trying to better inform the public by establishing the Virginia Center for Human-Wildlife Conflict Resolution.

“New problems continue to arise that we have never had to deal with before due to rapid residential and commercial development and the ever-increasing human population,” Parkhurst said.

As people encounter wildlife more and more frequently, it’s essential that they understand their responsibilities and the legal ways to approach these situations, he said. “There’s a lot of information out on the Web about all this, but it’s scattered and much of it is incorrect or not compatible with Virginia’s laws and regulations. It was our goal to create a single, consistent message about what to do and who to contact, and serve as a one-stop shop for people,” he said.

Parkhurst’s experience makes him ideal for the task. While he fulfills his duties of teaching courses, conducting research, and advising graduate students in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, he also serves as the only wildlife Extension specialist in the state. “My main goal is to get local governments to be more proactive in understanding and responding to wildlife issues that affect their communities,” he said.

While on the faculty of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Parkhurst administered the Northern New England Animal Damage Control Program, a multistate cooperative created to resolve human-wildlife conflicts throughout that region.

The opportunity to work at Virginia Tech and Virginia Cooperative Extension drew him to Blacksburg in 1993. Here, he found that residents didn't receive a consistent response to their wildlife concerns and often were confused about the subject. “The general public in the Mid-Atlantic region seemed to be eight to 10 years behind the Northeast in terms of their understanding of human-wildlife conflicts,” he said.

   

A young black bear, similiar to this one photographed in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, found its way into Blacksburg’s University Mall parking garage in 2010. A young black bear, similiar to this one photographed in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, found its way into Blacksburg’s University Mall parking garage in 2010. Photo courtesy of Chelsi Hornbaker of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Parkhurst took the initiative and founded the Virginia Center for Human-Wildlife Conflict Resolution in 2004. He worked with Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Conservation Management Institute, a research institute in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, to provide a resource for local government and residents alike. “This conflict resolution organization is designed to help state residents and municipal leaders identify potential means of assistance when confronted with problematic wild animal concerns,” Parkhurst said.

Parkhurst hasn’t stopped working to advance the issue, either. He is investigating the feasibility of creating a statewide, toll-free information hotline, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, modeled after a similar unit in Maryland.

“The demand is there, but the resources don’t exist,” Parkhurst said. “We’ve looked at this probably half a dozen times in the last 12 years. I don’t think the need or desire for the service has diminished, we just haven’t been able to find a way to pay for it yet.”

   

Beavers caused significant damage to trees planted in and around Radford’s Bisset Park in 2011. In 2011, beavers caused significant damage to trees planted in and around Bisset Park nearby Radford, Va. Photo courtesy of Steve Hillebrand of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Parkhurst said he is pleased with the progress that has been made in the area. “Within Extension, this has been a priority, and we’ve gotten a lot of help from the USDA and even the private sector,” he said. “There’s certainly been a lot going on, and now we’re just looking to consolidate our efforts.”

  • Written by Alex Koma of Vienna, Va., a junior majoring in communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and Kaitlin Cannavo of Spotsylvania, Va., who graduated in May 2010 with a degree in communication.
  • For more information on this topic, contact Lynn Davis or 540-231-6157.

About the center

The Virginia Center for Human-Wildlife Conflict Resolution uses resources provided by the Conservation Management Institute, a research institute in the College of Natural Resources of Environment, and Virginia Cooperative Extension. 

The center works with an advisory board with representatives from state and federal agencies, private organizations, and local government institutions. The center’s website provides answers to general and specific concerns about a number of wildlife species found in Virginia, including the following:

  • How to correctly identify an animal
  • Characteristics of the animal, such as what it eats and where it lives
  • Laws and regulations that guide the management of that animal in Virginia and across the nation
  • Potential transmissible diseases of concern to humans

Audio: Coyotes and farmers

Jim Parkhurst talks with University Relations' Paul Lancaster about coyote and farmer interactions.

Extension publications available

The majority of Associate Professor Jim Parkhurst’s work as a wildlife specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension deals with off-campus issues. He works closely with local governments, private agencies, and residents to resolve and address wildlife concerns.

Extension has produced a number of publications on wildlife issues, a number of which have been written by Parkhurst.

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    Jim Parkhurst

Jim Parkhurst, associate professor of wildlife in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, poses with a "scare eye," an inflatable ball designed to scare birds away from property.

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