Deep division over the idea of allowing ATV’s on Wildlife Management Areas

LOGAN, W.Va. — A new group hopes to persuade either the Division of Natural Resources or the Legislature to make changes to current rules and allow for the use of all terrain vehicles on West Virginia’s Wildlife Management Areas.

The Big Game Hunting Association of West Virginia seeks the change, claiming a lot of hunters in West Virginia are unable to truly enjoy the large expanses of public hunting land available in the state.

“Many people in the state, for one reason or another, we’re just not able to walk great distances into the woods. We need to be able to ride an ATV, just on designated roads and trails,” said Eddie Lawson of Logan County who is one of those leading the effort.

Older hunters who have had hip or knee replacement or suffer ailments like COPD or black lung and even veterans with disabling combat injuries are among the examples of those who would benefit from the change according to Lawson. Currently the law allows for those holding a “Class Q” hunting license to drive into designated areas. There are 12 Class Q roads designated on nine different Wildlife Management Areas. But Lawson added the Class Q designation is too limited.

“You have to be totally disabled due to paralysis or disease in the lower half of your body which makes it impossible to ambulate more than 200 feet,” Lawson said. “So people who’ve had hip and knee replacements, back problems or COPD or black lung, they don’t qualify for a Q license.”

Lawson’s organization formed soon after the creation of the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in southern West Virginia. The new public hunting area along with with two more WMAs created 32,000 contiguous acres of hunting land. Much of that land was previously hunted by locals who used ATV’s to access their favorite hunting spot. The new designation disallows them from riding into their stand..

Not everybody is excited about Lawson and his organization’s proposal. A number of long established conservation groups in West Virginia along with their members are starting to throw up opposition to the idea.

“Wildlife Management Areas are not paid for by taxpayer dollars, they’re paid for by hunting and fishing license sales, Pittman Robertson funds which are excise tax on firearms and hunting and fishing gear, and private donations,” said Logan Bockrath speaking on West Virginia Outdoors this past Saturday. “They should be wildlife focused and hunting and fishing focused and not ATV focused.”

Opponents fear, among other things, there would be no distinction between those using an ATV to get to a hunting spot and those simply enjoying an afternoon of off road riding. Opponents furthermore worry about road hunting illegally from the machines.

Lawson suggested there is a way to distinguish the two, one that he claims is already written into the law.

“Driving any vehicle or ATV in a manner that harasses or chases any animal or creates a public disturbance to other hunters is strictly prohibited, it’s called ‘cruising.'” Lawson offered. “Just about every state that allows ATV’s on Wildlife Management Areas or on public lands has a cruising law.”

Lawson suggested the law in the early 1970’s gave the Division of Natural Resources the authority to allow for creation of ATV trails or roads within the WMA system. It remains to be seen if there will be any interest by the DNR or members of the Legislature to enact any such allowance. Lawson said his group will make a push with lawmakers for the change. Bockrath and a number of organizations indicated they plan to push back.

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