CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Although disappointed with the decision of the Natural Resources Commission last weekend to delay a vote on lowering the buck limit in the state, the President of the Mountaineer Chapter of the Quality Deer Management Association said his organization will continue to advocate for changes in how deer are managed in West Virginia.
“Disappointed is probably the right word. I’d say the whole process has been disappointing,” said Jeremy Preston. “When this first began I think there was a hope for more open dialogue and a working relationship between hunters and the DNR, but I would say it’s been confrontational to say the least.”
A motion to vote up or down on a proposal to lower the state’s limit on bucks from three to two failed to win a second and instead a motion to delay such a vote until next May prevailed. Commissioner Tom Dotson said in making the successful motion to delay, he wanted to see more data from an ongoing study by Southwick Associates about possible ways to restructure the state’s hunting license. Dotson also wanted more information from the legislature on whether they would be willing to work with the Commission on the anticipated revenue loss from such a move.
Some hunters in the room at Sunday’s meeting favored going straight to the legislature and bypassing the Commission altogether. Preston isn’t inclined to move in that direction if it can be avoided.
“I don’t see why the legislature needs to be involved at all. The legislature last session put this on the Natural Resources Commission to get something done one way or another this year. The fact the issue would even still be on the table during the next session I don’t think sits well with a lot of representatives and it certainly doesn’t sit well with us,” he said. “Waiting until May after the legislative session is over almost seems like a trap, to force you to do something you don’t want to do.”
Advocates of lowering the buck limit believe it will increase the average age of whitetail bucks killed in the Mountain State and thereby increase the average size of their antlers. According to Preston, it wasn’t necessarily their idea to lower the limit from three to two, but in asking questions about what could be done, the two buck limit seemed to be the one idea which seemed most plausible.
“All the analysis they’ve done on financials has been lowering it to two. We have simply been asking, ‘What can we do?’ Is it a one buck limit, a two buck limit, point restrictions, spread restrictions, earn a buck, or maybe some combination of all of these? We’ve wanted to sit down and discuss this and we’ve not been given the opportunity to do that.”
An analysis delivered by a DNR accountant during Sunday’s meeting indicated lowering the limit would potentially cost the DNR more than $800,000 over three years and in the first year alone would include a loss of just over $500,000. DNR Director Steve McDaniel said couple that with the already anticipated loss and the DNR could be facing a shortfall of $1.5 Million.
“I’m not sure license increases are ever popular with hunters, but I think they’d like to see a better product if they’re paying more. The hopes of a lower limit is to get us to that place,” Preston said.
There were some parallels drawn to what happened in Tennessee, the most recent state to lower the buck limit. Tennessee lost considerable revenue after the change, but Preston said data showed the Volunteer State’s losses are leveling out after three years. Moreover, he indicated the desired impact on the average buck is vastly improved.
“The Tennessee Game Commission, biologists, taxidermists, everyone is adamant this was a good decision for them,” said Preston. “West Virginia and Tennessee’s regulations are not necessarily apples to apples, but the immediate shift in decision making, when they don’t have that third tag, that’s where the true impact is with a two buck limit.”
While Preston considered the delay a setback and disappointing, he also pledged the fight to make management changes won’t stop.
“I think we’re still leaning in the right direction. This is something I think is going to happen, if not sooner, then later,” he said.