Bill to change Natural Resources Commission headed to the Governor’s desk

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A group of sportsmen who largely organized through social media and pushed for change said this week’s approval of a measure which drastically changes the Natural Resources Commission was the change they wanted.

Members of the Better Buck Management Facebook group took a victory lap Monday night and Tuesday after the bill won final approval in the House of Delegates on a vote of 52-47. The measure sailed through final reading with no discussion after two amendments which were offered on second reading failed.

“A six-year sportsman led grassroots effort, culminating in a complete restructuring of the Natural Resources Commission. We started with a billboard that said “Want Change?’ and now we have change accomplished,” said Jeremy Preston a member and volunteer moderator of the group.

Supporters of the bill in the legislature had no trouble pushing through the Senate, but the House proved to be a taller obstacle. Originally the bill was to have gone to the House Natural Resources Committee, where it faced an uncertain future. Sponsors used some legislative maneuvering to get it into the House Judiciary Committee where it it won approval and made it onto the floor for the final vote.

Some opponents questioned DNR Director Steve McDaniel throughout the process about the need for such a wholesale change, many called it retaliatory legislation for the Commission’s vote last August against a motion to lower the state’s whitetail buck limit from 3 to 2. McDaniel repeatedly told lawmakers it had nothing to do with the buck vote, but was aimed at creating representation in two areas of the state which are under represented on the Commission.  The push to lower the buck limit has been a priority of the Better Buck Management group for several years.

The bill rewrites the language which originally called for one Commissioner from each of the state’s Congressional Districts and the rest were at large Commissioners ,all  appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the state Senate. Under the new bill, which now awaits Governor Jim Justice’s signature, there must be one Commissioner from each of the Division of Natural Resources six operational districts with one at-large commission member. Currently Districts 3 and 6 have no representative. The legislation also makes the Commissioners terms four years instead of seven and limits any Commissioner to two terms. They are still appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate,  but the language now allows them to be recommended by the DNR Director.

According to the bill to achieve the proper representation, the new appointees would be staggered at first. Three Commissioners would be appointed to full four-year terms, two would be appointed to three year terms, and two would be appointed to two year terms. Appointments after those expire would be full four-year terms.

However, the anticipated upheaval in the current Commission makeup won’t be immediate. Although the Senate version of the bill would have made the bill effective from passage, the House changed the language to make it effective 90 days from passage. If the Governor signs the bill, it would become effective July 5 and the next meeting of the Natural Resources Commission is set for May 5th at Cacapon Resort in Morgan County.

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