CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Legislation which would authorize guided bear hunts in West Virginia cleared the state Senate on Friday and is headed to the House of Delegates.
Senate Bill 590 was originated in committee by Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairman Mark Maynard. The measure would allow for commercialization of bear hunting by houndsmen in West Virginia.
“The guide must be a resident of the state, the hunt must be on private land, using trained bear dogs,” said Maynard in explaining the legislation on the Senate floor Friday. “In the past there has been opposition from bear hunters in the state, but this bill and the rule making will be so specific it will only be allowed to the type of houndsmen who are currently hunting.”
A similar measure passed the Senate in 2017 but failed in the House. The opposition this year is just as stiff as it was then. The West Virginia Bear Hunters Association is adamantly against the idea.
“When you start putting a price on an animal’s head all kinds of ugly comes out,” said Don Ratcliff a member of the West Virginia Bear Hunters Association advisory board.
Ratcliff claimed when a paying client was in the woods, guides would do whatever was necessary to satisfy the customer, even if that included unethical and potentially illegal activity. .
“I worked for a guide in Maine a few years ago and my dogs treed a sow with two cubs,” Ratcliff explained. “The guide I was working for was going to let the client shoot the sow, and I told him the cubs would ever make it through the winter. The guide said in Maine you could shoot the cubs too. I talked the client out of shooting her and we kept on until we found a big male. But, that’s the kind of ugly I’m talking about when you start putting a price on the animal’s head.”
Maynard in explaining the legislation to Senate colleagues ahead of the vote disagreed. He said the legislation represented an economic development opportunity for West Virginia.
“The DNR Director supports this and they have promised this will not negatively affect the sport of bear hunting with hounds in this state,” Maynard said. “This is another tool in the tool box to boost the economy of West Virginia.”
“This is a bad bill and we don’t want it, but Maynard keeps pushing it because he has a vested interest in it,” said Ratcliff. “It’s very frustrating when you get someone who doesn’t listen to the people who it’s going to affect.”
The bill won approval in the Senate 19-13 and now heads to the House of Delegates.