The sportsmen of West Virginia want justice. Advocates for lowering the buck limit from three to two per year in our state suffered a puzzling defeat at the hands of some long-standing members of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Commission at the most recent quarterly meeting.
For years now, a loud voice has resonated for a better deer hunting experience focusing more on quality than quantity. That voice has been confirmed by survey after survey and public meeting after public meeting. The voice was so loud that our governor, Jim Justice, extended the public comment period on the reduction of the yearly buck limit by two months. The final tally of email responses was 1,022 for the reduction and 72 against the reduction. That is a 93% approval rating for the reduction.
When considering changes to deer hunting in West Virginia, financial impacts must be weighed. It is estimated that a reduction in buck limits would cost roughly $275,000 per year in revenue loss. However, our DNR currently sits on a recent 24% gain in total revenue from $39 million in fiscal year 2015 to $51 million in fiscal year 2019. Times are so good that $40 million in renovations are planned and their endowment fund has blossomed to over $63 million.
Revenue from oil and gas development have the coffers of the DNR on sound financial ground. The fact is a $275,000 loss per year is well under 1% of total revenue. The equivalent of losing a penny when you have two dollars.
Our highly trained wildlife biologists have said that lowering the buck limit will have no negative biological effect. Many sportsmen of our state feel it will help put needed pressure on antlerless deer in areas where they are in excess. This approach would have put West Virginia on the path to achieving a more balanced doe-to-buck ratio and an older, more natural age structure while still affording biologists the ability to maintain population densities as needed.
Sportsmen are for the reduction, it will have negligible economic impact, and it will have no negative biological effect. So why did Commissioner Kenny Wilson, Pete Cuffaro, Byron Chambers and David Milne vote no to something sportsmen want?
Even more fishy is why would Commissioner Kenny Wilson, of Logan County, propose an amendment stripping a 4.3-mile segment of Cranberry River of catch and release status? Commissioner Wilson amended a proposal to include the deregulation of the section due to his claim that constituents that wanted to keep a few trout for dinner contacted him. If Commissioner Wilson voted against the will of 1,022 sportsmen in favor of a buck limit reduction, then how many sportsmen contacted him to influence an amendment without public comment being made to deregulate a beloved section of trout stream with miles of catch and keep water below it?
Commissioner Wilson has served well over 14 years. Shouldn’t he know the process and procedure that’s supposed to be followed? Commissioners are appointed by the governor and serve a seven-year term. Out of the seven-member commission, all but one are multiple-term appointments.
Interesting enough, the same commissioners that voted against a buck limit reduction all voted for deregulating the catch and release section of Cranberry River. Not a single question was raised, not a single comment was made, and we lost a crown jewel in under three minutes’ time from amendment to vote. It has taken well over six years of prodding and great lengths of surveying sportsmen to finally get a reduction in buck limit vote in which four commissioners denied the will of sportsmen. It took three minutes to lose that section of Cranberry from catch and release status.
It’s high time the sun shines some light into the political stagnation of the West Virginia Natural Resource Commission. Something smells fishy, and it’s not the trout in Cranberry River.