You can talk or you can listen; the choice is yours.Sportsmen who want to learn more about this year's proposed deer-season changes will be able to do so later this week during a series of meetings with state wildlife officials.In a dozen West Virginia towns, Division of Natural Resources administrators, biologists and law enforcement officers will hold "open houses" to give the public a chance to learn about - and comment upon - any and all proposed changes to the state's hunting and fishing regulations.The meetings will be held Monday and Tuesday, six on each day. Monday's meetings are slated for Fairmont, at East Fairmont High School; Martinsburg, at the James Rumsey Institute; Summersville, at Summersville High; Lewisburg, at the Quality Inn; Milton, at West Virginia Pumpkin Park; and Spencer, at the Heritage Building.Tuesday's meetings will be held in Glen Dale, at John Marshall High; Moorefield, at Moorefield Middle School; Elkins, at the DNR Operations Center; Mullens, at Twin Falls State Park Lodge; Logan, at the Chief Logan State Park Conference Center; and Parkersburg, in the City Building lobby.All the meetings will begin at 6 a.m. and will end at 8 p.m.Paul Johansen, the DNR's assistant wildlife chief, expects deer to be the hot topic. It ordinarily is, but Johansen said changes proposed for the 2012 antlerless-deer seasons will probably attract more comments than usual."Given the amount of interest the sportsmen of this state have in deer hunting, and given the season changes we've proposed, I expect a lot of people to want to comment," he said.
He added that the meetings' open-house format allows sportsmen to have their questions addressed directly."The open-house format is great for that. People who have questions or concerns can approach a biologist, an administrator or a law enforcement officer and have a one-on-one conversation about whatever is on their minds."It didn't used to be that way. The meetings used to be much more formal, with much less chance for give-and-take.DNR administrators used to allow sportsmen to make comments first, and then launch into a top-down declaration of what the year's regulatory proposals were. Sportsmen were given survey forms and could make written comments, but couldn't really discuss anything with agency personnel.Johansen believes relations with sportsmen have improved since DNR officials switched to the open-house format."We genuinely look forward to these meetings," he said. "We catch some heat from time to time, but we consider these meetings as our best opportunity to find out what the sportsmen of the state think about the regulations and programs we propose."Deer regulations won't be the only subject open to discussion at the upcoming meetings. Johansen said DNR personnel will also be soliciting input about this fall's proposed bear-season structure, a proposed change to the fall turkey season, and several minor changes to other hunting and fishing regulations.
Comments from the meetings, both verbal and written, will be compiled and shared with members of the state Natural Resources Commission, the seven-member panel that sets season dates and bag limits.Commission members will take the comments into consideration before they decide on the DNR's proposals. Decisions about deer, bear and turkey regulations will most likely be made at the commission's April 29 meeting.