Natural Resources Commission approves big game regs for 2021

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. — For the first time since the pandemic began, members of the public were allowed to attend a meeting of the West Virginia Natural Resources Commission Sunday. The meeting was held at the newly renovated Cacapon Resort in Morgan County to showcase the new renovations.  Although open to the public, the meeting was still streamed to the internet but there were intermittent issues with the sound, specifically from those speaking at the podium.

Commissioners approved the 2021 Big Game Hunting Regulations as were proposed. Those included adding turkeys to the Mountaineer Heritage Season and adding bear to the controlled urban archery hunts in West Virginia. The decision gave DNR Director Steve McDaniel some trepidation. Urban hunts already require those participating to demonstrate hunting and archery proficiency. He said the qualification needed to be reinforced to all municipalities wanting to add bear to the lineup.

“I want to be overly cautious, I agree and I’m one who proposed it to allow open bear hunting because of so many bear complaints. We just have to treat it with kid gloves because there is a difference between shooting a bear and shooting a deer with a bow or crossbow. You are required to be proficient because there’s a difference in wounding a bear and wounding a deer. A wounded bear has the potential to hurt someone,” McDaniel stated in his remarks.

Commissioners approved plans for the 2021 State Park controlled hunts as well. The schedule included hunts with limited permits at Beech Fork, Blennerhassett, Canaan Valley, Cacapon, North Bend, Stonewall, and Twin Falls State Parks. Some of the hunts are archery only while others are archery and muzzleloader. The aim was to reduce deer numbers on the park property where they have begun to negatively impact the park’s flora.

DNR Assistant Chief for Fisheries Mark Scott detailed the proposed fishing regulations for 2022 which will be up for approval at the next commission meeting.

During public comments to the commission West Virginia Bowhunters Association President Rusty Reed raised concerns about the numbers of crossbows used in the four southern West Virginia counties which are by law archery hunting only for whitetail deer. Only those who are certified disabled are allowed to use crossbows in those counties. Reed raised the issue of whether disability should be permanent or temporary.

“When they get a disability permit, there’s no access to take that away. Once they have the permit, it’s for life,” Reed said.

His remarks led to a public discussion of the difficulty in the medial community for making such a determination. Commissioner Tom Dotson, a medical doctor in practice for more than 50 years, noted some of the equipment needed to make a determination of upper body disability is expensive and impractical for most physicians.

“We can do a lot better if we should use some common sense. I really like the temporary versus permanent disability. I’ve issued a lot of permits and I don’t have any of that equipment, but I think I’ve made reasonable judgements. Unless we get some new ways to test, it really comes down to personal judgement,” he said.

Commissioner Pete Cuffaro, who pioneered the original crossbow bill for disabled hunters, spoke in defense of the regulation.

“When this crossbow bill was originally passed, those tests were set up to provide a need for assistive technology device–which a crossbow is listed as. As a physician, if you can’t perform that test, you should not be signing an okay for that permit,” said Cuffaro.

Commissioners also heard comments from Brad Knowle of the Excelsior Hunting Group, who asked for consideration of additional public shooting ranges in DNR District 2. He noted currently there are only two ranges. The Sleepy Creek WMA range is limited to shotguns only. The only rifle range in District 2 is in Pendleton County and is a long drive for anyone from the Martinsburg area. He noted many in that region of the state actually pay to go to a private shooting range.

McDaniel committed the agency would explore opportunities to add additional rifle ranges in the eastern panhandle.

McDaniel in his remarks also noted the Governor’s signing of Senate Bill 514. The bill to change the makeup of the Natural Resources Commission was signed by Governor Jim Justice and reshapes the commission to have representation of all six DNR Districts along with one at large commissioner.  Commissioner’s terms are also lowered in the bill from seven years to four.

“Despite what some might say, this was to try to get additional representation for everyone. Any changes on the Commission comes from the Governor and Senate still has to approve that. There are no forgone conclusions and I’ll leave it at that,” McDaniel said.

Ahead of his remarks, Commissioner Cuffaro read a statement in response to the bill noting his appreciation for those who have aided him during his time on the Commission and called the opportunity to serve an honor. Cuffaro also noted he believed because of the changes this would be his last meeting as a member of the Commission.

The third meeting of the Natural Resources Commission for 2021 was scheduled for July 25th at Hawk’s Nest State Park.

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