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West Virginians are being encouraged to go fishing during the COVID-19 crisis, but not if it involves a gathering.

For the time being, at least, fishing tournaments with weigh-ins remain a no-no. In fact, Division of Natural Resources officials have suspended all such tournaments until May 3.

The order includes many of the state’s bass and catfish tournaments, which traditionally end with anglers gathering at designated locations to have their fish weighed.

The order does not include internet-based tournaments in which anglers photograph their catches and upload the photos to be judged. Most, if not all, of the state’s kayak bass-fishing tournaments follow that format.

DNR officials urge anglers to observe state-recommended social-distancing guidelines whenever and wherever they go to fish.

The folks in state government also want people to get out into the woods. Hiking trails remain open in state parks, state forests and national forests, and they’ll get used pretty heavily once the weather becomes consistently warm.

Some of those hikers, no doubt, will come across young animals and birds that appear to have been abandoned. Here, in a word, is what they should do:


In fact, they should back off, go about their merry ways and leave the critters behind.

Too often, they don’t. Every year, state wildlife and law enforcement officials get bombarded with calls from people who have picked up seemingly abandoned wildlife.

No species is exempt. People pick up bear cubs, deer fawns, baby raccoons, baby groundhogs, baby squirrels, baby rabbits, baby opossums, baby skunks and even baby snakes.

This really bugs DNR officials, who have urged folks since time immemorial to “leave young wildlife alone!”

Most of the time, the critters haven’t been abandoned at all. Their mothers have parked them and are out foraging for food. Biologists say this sort of separation is a survival tactic and can last for several hours.

Tyler Evans, a biologist at the West Virginia State Wildlife Center in French Creek, said humans “need to understand that touching or disturbing these animals in any way will lead to detrimental outcomes for both the animal and person involved.”

Many of the people who pick up fawns, for example, want to “feed the poor little things,” and the first thing they seem to want to feed them is condensed milk. The fawns end up with explosive, sometimes fatal diarrhea, and the well-intentioned humans end up with spectacular messes and dead or dying fawns.

Some people who pick up wildlife end up with more than the critter itself. Animals and birds often carry ticks, fleas, lice and other parasites, not to mention diseases such as tularemia, West Nile virus, hantavirus, Lyme disease and even rabies.

Animals and birds should be treated as what biologists call “biological packages.” People don’t just pick up a critter, they pick up everything that goes with it.

Taking home wildlife isn’t just unwise. It’s also illegal.

State law prohibits the possession of wildlife without a permit. Picking up a young animal in the wild is considered illegal possession. Fines range from $20 to $1,000, and can carry sentences of up to 100 days in jail.

Bottom line? Leave ’em alone. They belong in the wild, and that’s exactly where they should stay.

Reach John McCoy at, 304-348-1231, or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.