CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Major modifications are coming to the West Virginia DNR Trout program in light of recent concerns by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Governor Jim Justice first mentioned the changes in his daily briefing Wednesday and called the actions a war on the state by the Biden Administration.
“I’m calling on President Biden to stop this all out war on West Virginia by his federal agencies,” Gov. Justice said. “It’s so blatantly targeted at our state and our people because we happen to disagree on political issues. It’s just plain wrong. We aren’t asking for special treatment, just fairness and consistency in the decisions by these agencies that have the power to affect our state, our economy, and the livelihoods of hardworking West Virginians.” said Justice in a statement detailing more of the changes which will be forthcoming for trout anglers in the Mountain State.
During an annual discussion with the feds about the renewal of the state’s hatchery operations grant, the Division of Natural Resources learned it would have to stop stocking trout in waters with known populations of the endangered Candy Darter, Guyandotte River Crayfish, and Big Sandy Crayfish.
The conversation about the program is a requirement of the Endangered Species Act or ESA. Any activity which uses a federal money or property must consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to insure they are in compliance the ESA before the funding can be approved. Failure to comply with the Act could result in loss of the federal funding for the state.
The DNR proposed three conservation measures to comply with the federal agency’s concerns.
The first of those measures will eliminate stocking in four specific waters where known populations of the species are found. Those are Camp Creek in Mercer County, Laurel Creek of Cherry in Greenbrier and Nicholas County, North Fork of Cherry in Greenbrier County, and Pinnacle Creek in Wyoming County. All four waters will all be removed from the DNR’s trout stocking list.
A second conservation measure to comply with federal concerns was to modify the stocking schedule on a number of other trout waters. Some of the waters on the list are iconic trout streams in the state. The Justice Administration has not released the full list of those waters, but Governor Justice indicated among them are Williams River and the Cranberry during his announcement about the new arrangement..
Those waters will be stocked with the same amount of trout they have always received during years past, but the stockings will be done between November 1 and April 30th. Stocking operations will be halted during what the administration described as “prime seasons.”
DNR staff do not agree the stocking program is jeopardizing the endangered fish or crayfish. However, in 2018 the agency entered into an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop stocking brown trout in streams where the two endangered crayfish were known to live. The state and federal authorities reached an agreement which allowed only for the stocking of rainbow trout in those waters, since it was agreed rainbow trout do not prey on crayfish species.
However, as a final conservation measure put forth by the DNR to the feds, the agency will partner with West Virginia University to do a trout food/habitat study. DNR officials believe the study will confirm the trout are not a threat to the endangered species and will share their findings with the USFWS.
In a release, the Governor’s office indicated they hope to reach an agreement which will allow the stocking schedule to continue as it has always been, but until then the modified schedule will be in place and the four streams mentioned will be eliminated altogether from the stocking program.