CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Legislation which which would make changes to the state’s Natural Resources Commission has advanced to the floor of the state Senate. Members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee heard testimony and raised discussion Monday afternoon ahead of a vote on the matter.
The proposal would require a member from each of the Division of Natural Resources six operational districts. The seventh member, under the measure, would be an at-large appointment and all would still be appointed by the Governor. The bill would reduce the terms of Commissioners from seven years to four and would allow members to serve only two consecutive terms.
“It’s great if we have a four year term because this is not going to be a board where you’re going to have to recruit and try to find people. There will be people standing in line for this,” said Senator Randy Smith of Tucker County.
“The DNR is managed on a district level,” DNR Director Steve McDaniel explained to committee members.
“All of our Wildlife Management Areas, biologists, managers, everything works out of one of the six districts,”
McDaniel told committee members there is presently no representation in Districts 3 or 6, which encompassed everything from the Virginia border to the Ohio River through the center of West Virginia.
“So when controversial projects come up, like the buck limit come up, we have people who complain they didn’t have representation,” he testified.
Commissioner Pete Cuffaro was allowed to offer testimony before the committee and claimed the buck limit vote which was taken last year was the whole reason for the bill.
“In this bill it states, ‘The Director of the Division of Natural Resources may submit recommendations to the Governor for the appointment of commissioners.’ I feel with this, Director McDaniel wants to pack the commission to promote the two buck limit,” Cuffaro told the body.
“That’s not why we did it. We did it to try and get better representation for all hunters and anglers around the sate,” McDaniel offered in response to questions about the buck limit vote.
The bill would call for the Director to make recommendations to the Governor about commission appointments, something which may happen now, but is not codified. Senate Bill 514 puts the recommendations into code.
“If we trust our leadership in the agency, which I do personally, it seems to me for turnover and fresh faces, there’s no problem having input from the agency. I don’t see any dark cloud that comes with that,” said Senator Mike Woelfel of Cabell County.
Senator Bob Beach raised questions about the Commission’s diversity and asked counsel to research other state commissions and boards which have requirements of minority or female representation. Although there are no women on the commission currently, Deputy DNR Director Emily Fleming told the committee there have been female commissioners in the past.
“Things are changing out here in the world. We’re trying to market our state for tourism,” Woelfel added in remarks supporting the bill.
The measure passed on a voice vote and advanced to the full Senate.