CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State lawmakers are calling for the immediate firing of state Division of Natural Resources Director Frank Jezioro. Members of the legislature made the formal request in letters to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin in the final hours of the legislative session. Thirteen Senators and 26 Delegates asked for the termination in two separate letters to Tomblin, citing an inability to work with Jezioro and his continued interference with efforts to accomplish legislation.
“A lot of legislators and myself are not pleased with his attitude. He really doesn’t want to work with the legislature,” said Delegate Rupie Phillips of Logan County. “From the deer farming to the elk restoration to several things that other delegates and Senators have brought to my attention. He’s the EPA of the DNR.”
The deer farm legislation was expected to pass, but died on the final night of the legislative session. The bill would have transferred regulatory control of captive cervids in West Virginia from Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture.
“We’re trying to promote, grow, and let that industry flourish in West Virginia and we were getting nothing but stonewalled from the DNR, That’s why we were trying to make a move.” said Senator Daniel Hall of Wyoming County. “We shouldn’t even have to make that move, but we were getting no cooperation from the DNR and we felt that was the only option we had left.”
The House version of the letter is strongly worded:
“His behavior is a detriment to his agency’s mission. He has stepped beyond the role of providing information on proposed legislation and has evolved into excessive lobbying of both the Legislature and outside groups on many issues that are within the purview of the legislature, including predator control, state parks, and captive cervids. This overreach by the Director and his leadership team applies to nearly all of the programs of the Division including law enforcement, wildlife, parks, and fisheries.”
“He’s taken it upon himself to incite, in his own words 400,000 hunters in West Virginia to oppose this legislation and to try to control what goes on in the legislature,” said Hall. “Riling up and not just giving false information, but incomplete information trying to scare hunters out there into what he wants them to believe.”
Phillips’ major issue with the Director has been slow action on the push to reintroduce elk in southern West Virginia. Phillips believed Jezioro has deliberately hamstrung the effort with wording of land agreements now in the hands of large land holding companies where the elk would be placed.
“The same companies who signed agreements in the state of Kentucky won’t sign Frank Jezioro’s version,” Phillips explained. “They’ve indicated they are willing to sign an agreement similar to those in Kentucky, but not the ones proposed so far in West Virginia. We’re missing a great opportunity here.”
Jezioro told a House subcommittee during interim meetings this year he would be adamant that any agreement allow elk to be accessible to the public from now on. The exact wording which has created the divide hasn’t been publicly revealed.
Jezioro tells MetroNews he never received a copy of the letter and only learned about it this week during a conversation with Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette.
“I have no idea who they are talking about that I called,” Jezioro said. “I don’t recall calling anybody and giving out misinformation.”
Jezioro said he was unaware of any of the claims made by lawmakers in the letters, especially in terms of lobbying sportsman’s organizations in the state.
“All these organizations openly came out against the Senate version (of the deer farm bill). They’re blaming me for that. I wish I had that much influence with the thousands of people who belong to those organizations,” he said. “I don’t recall making any call to any sportsman organization. I never did it. I didn’t talk to their representatives at all.”
Jezioro also bristled at the allegation he engaged in “lobbying” against legislation.
“I never lobbied anybody and deliberately stayed away from the capitol this session because I’ve heard these claims before,” he said. “That the deer farm bill didn’t pass because of Frank Jezioro.”
Jezioro said he’s had no contact with Governor Tomblin about the letter or any other matter.
“The Governor has received the letters and he’s reviewed those and spoken to Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette.” said Tomblin Administration Spokesperson Amy Shuler-Goodwin. “He’s currently working on bill signing legislation, but he and Secretary Burdette will be following up on this issue soon.”