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Proposal to lower W.Va. buck limit narrowly fails

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After more than four years of debate and controversy, a vote to lower the number of bucks West Virginia hunters can kill from 3 to 2 was voted down Sunday. The buck limit was the final item on the agenda of the Natural Resources Commission’s third quarterly meeting of of 2020 and came out of Director Steve McDaniel’s remarks.

“This has been a controversial subject to say the least. We have heard from both sides since I got here, and it’s something that many people are very passionate about. We have surveyed the public ad nauseam. There have been three surveys and all three found a small majority, in the 50 percent range, favored lowering the limit,” McDaniel told Commissioners.

Public comments leading up to the vote were made via email or through the U.S. Mail. The vote was delayed from May until Sunday to enable more comment. According to McDaniel the agency received 1,123 comments on lowering the buck limit. Fifteen of those comments could not be accepted since the submissions had no viable email or physical address. He reported to the commission 72 of the comments opposed lowering the limit, but 1,022 were in favor of the action. He had the substantial stack of printed comments at his side during the meeting.

Commissioner Jeff Bowers raised the question about the potential financial impact of lowering the limit from 3 to 2.

“Whoever kills a buck in archery season will not buy an extra buck stamp for gun season,” said McDaniel. “Last year that would have cost us about $87,000. Over a three year period the cost would have been about $800,000 by our administration’s look at sales.”

But McDaniel also noted the agency in the past three years has seen significant revenue improvement. Those have come in the area of increased fishing license sales from 2019 and in oil and gas lease royalties and bonuses. The agency saw about a Million dollar increase in operating expenses since 2017 and Capital expenditures have jumped significantly. It’s expected those will do so for a couple more years as the state’s hatcheries undergo modernization and upgrades. But McDaniel said the royalty payments have put the agency on solid financial footing for the time being.

“If you’re going to do it, now would be the time to do it. The agency is fiscally sound and right now from a financial standpoint, we are in pretty good shape,” McDaniel said.

“I have over the last two years probably personally spoken to 200 plus people.  The vast majority don’t oppose lowering it from three to two, but a further reduction, I found no one in favor of that.  They felt three to two was reasonable, but you’re hearing a lot on social media about this being the ‘first step,'” said Bowers.

McDaniel admitted going as far as lowering the limit to one buck in West Virginia was something he too would oppose.

“I think if you did a study on that, you wouldn’t find that many in favor.”  McDaniel said.

Commissioner Pete Cuffaro, who joined the meeting via Zoom, is a Class Q license holder. He questioned whether various license class holders would lose the opportunity of taking a buck which they were promised when the license was issued. Those groups include senior lifetime license holders and veterans.

“As we’ve been selling license, we’ve changed bag limits. Lifetime license, you’re purchasing the privilege to hunt and bag limits are subject to change. But I will tell you lowering the buck limit will NOT lower the number of deer you can take. You can actually harvest 11 deer with various seasons and controlled and urban hunts in the state,” said McDaniel.

“But as a Class Q holder, I’m going to be out a buck. That answers my question.” Cuffaro said.

The motion, made by Commissioner Tom Dotson, called for lowering the buck limit from 3 to 2 in 44 counties. The four southern West Virginia archery only counties are already at a one buck limit. The motion also reflected concerns from DNR staff about lowering the buck limit in the CWD containment zone of the eastern panhandle. The motion exempted those seven counties.

Commissioner Kenny Wilson asked for a roll call vote. Commissioners Wilson, Dave Milne, and Cuffaro voted against the measure. Commissioners Greg Burnette, Dotson, and Bowers voted for it. Commissioner B.K. Chambers, joining the meeting via Zoom, cast the deciding vote against the proposal which struck it down 4-3.

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