SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia wildlife officials have created a whole new plan to get hunters to kill more female deer, and have proposed a flood of changes for this fall's hunting season to make sure those females get killed.Division of Natural Resources officials unveiled the plan at Sunday's quarterly meeting of the Natural Resources Commission, the seven-member panel that sets the state's hunting and fishing regulations.Gary Foster, the DNR's game management supervisor, said agency officials want hunters to kill more deer in order to reduce whitetail populations in many areas of the state."The overall habitat quality in the state isn't as good as it was a generation ago," Foster explained. "Today the state is 79 percent forested. People might think that's good for deer, but it isn't. Deer thrive best in diverse habitats. Ideal deer habitat is about 60 percent forested, with 30 percent in open lands or farmlands. In the past 30 to 40 years, about 3 million acres' worth of farmland has been allowed to revert to forest."Foster added that today's fully grown forests contain far less deer-sustaining vegetation than the yesterday's brush lands or farmlands."And timber companies aren't [clear-cutting] anymore, so we're not creating openings in the forest where [tender young vegetation] can grow," he said.Foster said the decline in habitat persuaded DNR officials to set future deer-population goals at 20 to 35 deer per square mile, depending upon forest type, human population density and other factors. Herd levels in the most overpopulated counties currently range between 60 and 100 deer per square mile.Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the DNR, called the plan "a major retooling" of the DNR's approach to deer management."Since 1979, when we wrote the first operational plan, we set up our guidelines for antlerless-deer regulations based on biological information that was current at the time," Johansen said. "Technology now gives us newer and better information, and we're making changes accordingly."DNR officials use hunters as their main tool for controlling deer populations. By increasing the number of female deer that hunters kill, agency biologists hope to curb overpopulation, particularly in the state's Northern Panhandle, in the upper Ohio Valley, and along Interstate 79 between Weston and Morgantown.This year's proposed deer-regulation changes were devised to bring down the population in those areas. The changes, if approved, would include: Requiring hunters in counties with very high deer populations to kill an antlerless deer before they're allowed to kill a second buck. The change would apply both to archery and firearm seasons;
Setting the bag limit at three antlerless deer in all counties or parts of counties that currently have two- or four-deer limits;
Allowing nonresident hunters to apply for antlerless-deer permits in counties and on public areas where the state offers limited permits; Allowing hunters to take up to two deer a day, provided at least one of the deer is antlerless;
Establishing a statewide urban-hunt bag limit of seven deer -- seven antlerless or a combination that includes up to two antlered bucks. Municipalities would be able to open their special seasons as early as the second Saturday in September;
Changing the opening date of the deer archery season from Oct. 1 to the Monday closest to Oct. 1. Depending on how the calendar falls from year to year, opening dates would fluctuate between Sept. 28 and Oct. 4; Creating a new three-day, late-October firearm season for antlerless deer; Closing the current September antlerless-deer archery season; Reducing the length of the September antlerless-deer muzzleloader season from six days to three; Moving the traditional December muzzleloader season ahead one week; and Moving the traditional December antlerless-deer season back one week and reduce it from six days to three.
"The bottom line is that we want a healthy deer population," Foster said as he introduced the proposed changes. "We want the deer herd to exist in harmony with current habitat conditions, and in harmony with current sociological conditions."DNR officials plan to take the proposals to the public in a series of 12 mid-March meetings at locations throughout the state. Commission members will take public input into account before they approve or disapprove any regulation changes. Commissioners will vote on the proposals at an April 29 meeting in Lewisburg.Members of the commission are Jeff Bowers, from Pendleton County; Byron Chambers, Hampshire County; Pete Cuffaro, Ohio County; Dr. Tom Dotson, Greenbrier County; Dave Milne, Preston County; Dave Truban, Monongalia County; and Kenny Wilson, Logan County.Reach John McCoy at email@example.com or 304-348-1231.