A pastor friend of mine never liked the idea that folks within his congregation, particularly husbands and wives, got into arguments.  He would rather refer to those often inescapable moments between closely bonded folks as “intense fellowship.”  There may be some of that at play in South Charleston Sunday when folks who are closely bonded by the kinship of the outdoors get together.

The first meeting of the West Virginia Natural Resources Commission every year is always a big one.  It’s the meeting where the Wildlife Resources Section of the Division of Natural Resources delivers its recommendations to the commission on bag limits and season dates for all species of game for the upcoming hunting season.   The presentation will also include recommendations on changes to fishing regulations as well, although those generally layover until later in the year for action. The first meeting of the West Virginia Natural Resources Commission every year is always a big one.  It’s the meeting where the Wildlife Resources Section of the Division of Natural Resources delivers its recommendations to the commission on bag limits and season dates for all species of game for the upcoming hunting season.   The presentation will also include recommendations on changes to fishing regulations as well, although those generally layover until later in the year for action.

It’s always a big meeting–but this year it may be larger than ever.    So large, for the first time in my memory, the meeting’s location has bee changed.   Late Friday, the Division of Natural Resources announced the meeting will be moved from the agency’s headquarters in South Charleston two blocks down the street to the Holiday Inn and Suites located at 400 2nd Avenue in South Charleston.   In case you’re needing to call ahead, the number is 304-744-4641.

The change comes amid anticipation of an overflow crowd.  Two key issues are driving the expected overflow attendance.  One is legislation which has passed the Senate and is headed to the House of Delegates to allow for commercially guided bear hunting in West Virginia.   The West Virginia Bear Hunters Association is adamantly against the idea.  They are expected to bring a pack of folks to the meeting to share their enthusiastic opposition to the idea.

A second group with an ax to grind is a group known as West Virginians for Better Buck Management.  The loosely aligned group of deer hunters has been around for several years and are connected via a Facebook group.  They seek change to the way deer management is handled in the state.  Most notably, the group wants to see the buck limit lowered from three to two–but some would like to see it lowered even further to one.   They’ve been frustrated their desires haven’t been accepted into the management plan by the agency, but continue to push for change.

The group was successful in lobbying the legislature to put at least some of their wishes into bill form this year.   Senate Bill 586 failed Friday when put to a vote in the Senate Natural Resources Committee.  A similar bill in the other chamber, House Bill 2984, didn’t fail, but committee chairman Delegate Jason Harshbarger indicated he would not run the legislation, hoping only that it would create the opportunity for discussion.

To that end, the bill was highly successful.  There has been plenty of discussion, particularly on social media.  Some members were furious when the Fiscal Note on the bill was released earlier this week.   I reported on it here.

Shon Butler of Buckhannon tells me he wrote the bill and was able to get his local Delegate to introduce it in Charleston. Unlike other versions, his bill included considerable changes in the cost of a license.  The reaction to the legislation was more sticker shock over the proposed price structure of hunting license than over the number of bucks we would be able to kill.  But Butler reasoned, the change in the cost of a license in the legislation was misunderstood.

“In 2017 West Virginia sold 11,844 resident license. They also sold 39,186 Class N license. This is 3.3 Class ‘N’ stamps per licensed hunter. At which Point we must account for lifetime holders buying half. This means that the average West Virginia resident buys 1.7 doe tags per license. That means each licensee is paying $20 to doe hunt currently.” explained Butler in an email conversation on the subject.

“When added together residents are buying 23,500 additional deer stamps. When accounting for lifetime licenses this means that each resident hunter is buying on the average 1 additional stamp at $21 a shot. Let’s use the sportsmen package price as base. It currently is $35. Then we add 2 class n stamps at $20 and one additional deer stamp at $21 and that makes the average a resident license holder spending on deer hunting at $76. The bill asks $65 for a 4 deer license. It’s an $11 savings.”

“The proposed $40 RG is an APR (Antler Point Restriction)  tag for the taking of a quality buck, it combines the RG, RB and RM together which currently if you bought all three would be $63, the bill makes this $23 cheaper!”

Butler based his figures on the 2017 Big Game Bulletin, his most recent available data when compiling his figure.  He also offered this comparison for the most hard core of West Virginia hunters who buy every single stamp available for deer:

Base                $35

3 Class N        $30

RG                   $21

2 RB                $42

RM                   $21

—————————————-

Total $149

Butler further offered under the House bill he crafted, even with the changes in license fees a purchase of all available items would look this way.

Base $65

RG  $40

———————————–

Total $105

“That’s a $44 savings.” explained Butler. “By no means an increase.”

Butler didn’t necessarily call our conversation a “fiscal note” but he finalized with this:

“The first three years the resident sales will stay the same or increase. Non- resident will have a two year hiccup of maybe 10% lower sales then when the quality deer catch up we will explode! Our PR funds will climb. Also as product quality goes up resident sales will increase. In ten years WV will be experiencing a 30% revenue increase!”

The legislation is pretty much dead and in hindsight may never have been intended to pass, but it has most definitely stirred the conversation.