Chris Schulz Published

USDA Temporarily Closes State Wildlife Center, No French Creek Freddie This Year

A groundhog grasps the wire of a fence with its claws. The animal's teeth are visible as it stands up against the fence.
French Creek Freddie at the West Virginia Wildlife Center.
Courtesy of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources

With Groundhog Day on Friday, Feb. 2, fans of animal meteorology were dealt a blow Wednesday. 

Punxsutawney Phil may be the most popular weather-predicting groundhog, but French Creek Freddie is the local favorite. However, fans will not have a chance to watch the four-legged forecaster this year as the West Virginia State Wildlife Center where Freddie lives is closed indefinitely and the Groundhog Day Ceremony is canceled.

During his regular briefing Wednesday, Gov. Jim Justice explained that the closure was related to an issue with a fence.

“Our state Wildlife Center in French Creek is temporarily closed due to an abrupt decision by the USDA to no longer recognize an indefinite variance, on a secondary committed containment fence that was issued 24 years ago,” he said.

In a press release after the briefing, Justice clarified that the abrupt decision was part of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s annual relicensing procedure. As the relicensing process and inspection are pending approval, the Wildlife Center is unable to exhibit animals and will be closed to the public until a new license is secured.

Justice says this, along with a challenge by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the state’s trout stocking program are “a move by folks that are trying to punish states.”

“I’m calling on President Biden to stop this all-out war on West Virginia by his federal agencies,” Justice said in his press release. “It’s so blatantly targeted at our state and our people because we happen to disagree on political issues. It’s just plain wrong.” 

According to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Freddie’s weather-predicting career got its start in 1978, when former West Virginia State Wildlife Center Superintendent Bill Vanscoy responded to a reporter on Groundhog Day if there was a groundhog on site and if it had seen its shadow. Freddie can be viewed year-round once the facility re-opens.