Bill to change Natural Resources Commission advances in House

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The bill to reshape representation on the West Virginia Natural Resources Commission took another step toward approval in the legislature Tuesday. The House Judiciary Committee advanced Senate Bill 514 to the floor on a voice vote.

Stephen McDaniel

The vote came after some strongly pointed questioning by some on the committee toward Division of Natural Resources Director Steve McDaniel. Delegate Pat McGeehan questioned McDaniel about recent disagreements with current members of the Commission and suggested the bill was retaliation over those disagreements.

‘I had to overturn a decision they made in August removing a catch and release section from the Cranberry River without notification to the public and without having it on the agenda, but that’s not why this legislation is being introduced,” McDaniel said.

Delegate Sean Fluharty pressed the suggestion even further and brought up the recent controversial and close vote against lowering the buck hunting limit from 3 to 2.

Shawn Fluharty

“When you can’t win a debate on facts, you try to find a hot button issue. That’s what they’ve done here. A couple of commissioners are friends with a newspaper reporter and they’re trying to paint this as retaliation and it’s not. It’s about trying to get equal representation throughout the state of West Virginia,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel referenced a column by Charleston Gazette-Mail Outdoors Editor John McCoy calling out the Director’s motives for the bill.

McDaniel offered a map to lawmakers showing the six DNR operating districts and noted the lack of representation in Districts 3 and 6 for many years. He also raised the issue of reducing the years of a Commissioner’s term and creating a two term limit which he said would be more in-line with neighboring state. The Commissioner would still be appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. The bill also codifies those appointments would come at the suggestion of the DNR Director to the Governor. McDaniel told committee members he fields calls weekly about a lack of representation.

Steve Westfall

Delegate Steve Westfall of Jackson County shared he gets those same calls and emails.

“Why there’s no representation on this board for Jackson, Mason, or Wood County? There hasn’t been for several years. This spreads the board members around the state and for that reason I think it’s a good bill and I support it.,” Westfall said.

Delegate Jonathan Pinson of Mason County is also a supporter.

“Mason County has 18 or 20 thousand acres of Wildlife Management Area and no representation,” Pinson said.

But Fluharty remained highly skeptical.

Jonathan Pinson

“This thing just smells. The testimony is clear to me there are some ulterior motives going on here. There have been some disagreements between those in charge and their response was to just run legislation and run over the current makeup of the Commission. That smells at all levels and there’s no way I can support this,” Fluharty offered.

The bill passed on a voice vote and was reported to the House floor.

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