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DNR proposes changes in bear-hunting season

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia wildlife officials want to change 2013's black bear hunting season dramatically, but they don't want to change the antlerless-deer season much at all.A parade of Division of Natural Resources biologists outlined the proposals at Sunday's quarterly meeting of the state Natural Resources Commission, the panel that sets hunting seasons and bag limits.Under the proposals, bear-hunting regulations would be significantly more liberal than in recent years.The largest change would come in the state's mountain counties, where firearm bear seasons have been restricted to the month of December since 1977.If the proposed regulations are approved, bears could be hunted with firearms during the 12-day late-November firearm season for buck deer, in addition to the traditional four-week December season.Chris Ryan, DNR's game management services supervisor, said the idea is to control the bear population by enticing hunters to kill enough females."We did a [scientific public-opinion] survey of all the state's counties to determine what [bear] population level people are willing to tolerate," Ryan said. "Using the findings from that survey, we fine-tuned our population objectives for each county. These regulation proposals are designed to keep those populations in line with our management objectives."The affected counties would be Barbour, Braxton, Clay, Grant, Greenbrier, Hardy, Lewis, Mercer, Mineral, Monroe, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, Summers, Taylor, Tucker, Upshur and Webster.To prevent hunters from killing too many bears, DNR officials would limit the number of bear-hunting permits available in those counties."Hunters would apply for the permits, and they would be issued through a random drawing, just like we do our antlerless-deer permits," Ryan explained. During the mountain counties' concurrent bear-buck season, dog use would be prohibited, just as it is in southern counties where bear-buck hunting has been allowed for the past several years.DNR officials are also proposing to move the mountain counties' September firearm season into October."Having it in September was mainly to avoid any conflicts with the archery deer season," Ryan said. "Then the archery season got moved up to an earlier start. We figured that if the two seasons were going to overlap, we should move the bear season later so the weather would be cooler for the hunters, the dogs and the bears."Under the proposal, the season would be shortened from its current six days to just three, which this year would take place Oct. 14-16.Affected counties would include eastern Barbour, eastern Braxton, southern Clay, Grant, Greenbrier, Hardy, western Mineral, eastern Monroe, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Preston, Randolph, Tucker, eastern Upshur and Webster.
For deer hunters, the DNR's 2013 season proposals are far less complicated."This year's proposed regulations will follow a framework very similar to last year's," said Paul Johansen, the agency's assistant wildlife chief. "We're proposing some additional liberalization to our antlerless-deer regulations, but we're not talking about anything drastic."Five counties that were closed to antlerless-deer hunting in 2012 would be open this fall to hunters with lottery-drawn permits: Boone, northern Greenbrier, Mercer, western Pendleton and eastern Raleigh.Another county that was closed -- Lincoln -- would be opened to antlerless-deer hunting with no limits on permits.In seven counties, the bag limit for antlerless deer would rise from one to three: Barbour, Cabell, Gilmer, Grant, southern Greenbrier, Monroe and Roane.And in 13 counties, hunters would be required to kill an antlerless deer before they would be allowed to kill a second buck: Berkeley, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, Lewis, Marion, Mason, western Mineral, Morgan, Putnam, Ritchie, Wetzel and Wirt.
The addition of those 13 counties means that 22 of the state's 55 counties would fall under the DNR's most liberal antlerless-deer hunting regulations. Gary Foster, the agency's game management supervisor, said harvest data from the past two buck and antlerless seasons dictated a more liberal approach."We base our recommendations on a two-year average [of harvest data]," he explained. "We had an artificially low harvest in 2010, and that made the 2012 regulations a little more conservative than perhaps they should have been. This year's regulation proposal is based on the 2011 and 2012 harvests, which we think represented the condition of the deer population pretty accurately."In addition to the big-game proposals, DNR officials asked the commission to place bag limits for the first time on a broad array of reptiles and amphibians.Before the proposal, only bullfrogs, green frogs, snapping turtles and spiny softshell turtles had bag limits. Barb Sargent, the DNR's Natural Heritage Program coordinator, said the lack of regulations on other species was allowing wood turtles, box turtles, salamanders, snakes and lizards to be collected willy-nilly and sold on the black market for pets and for food."West Virginia has a reputation as being a 'black hole' where there is very little protection for reptiles and amphibians," Sargent said."For example, someone could come in here, buy a fishing license and take 100 turtles. In 2008, a bust in Hampshire County found three Florida men with $250,000 worth of turtles, snakes and frogs. We don't want that happening anymore, and that's why we've proposed these bag limits."Commission members have the prerogative to approve, disapprove or modify any regulations proposed to them. The public will have a chance to comment on the proposals at a series of meetings the DNR will hold in March. Votes on proposed regulations should take place at the commission's late-April meeting.Reach John McCoy at or 304-348-1231. 
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