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Charlie Nichols: DNR battles Helmick over captive cervids


By Charlie Nichols

I have been following the rant by 13 state senators and 26 delegates addressed to our Governor against Division of Natural Resources Director Frank Jezioro with consternation and amusement.

I find it amusing because they didn’t get their way with a deer pen bill but my concern, my utmost consternation, is that what they are wishing to impose on this director would limit all future directors.

Let me clearly state my bias upfront. I personally have been imploring the Legislature for the last five years to not pass a sundry number of bills that reclassify whitetail deer as livestock merely because they are behind a fence, and/or to not place the current one dozen deer farms in this state under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture but to maintain them under the DNR.

One decade ago the dozens of deer farmers that wanted to create “deer farms” gave their word to the sportsmen and women of this state that they would agree to DNR terms just to get deer farming started in this state.

Sportsmen messed up ever letting a deer farm bill be introduced but that is another point for another day.

The amusing part is legislators who supported this bill made as many mistakes in their assumptions as they did the flawed minimum wage bill.

Their accusations against the director: “He has stepped beyond the role of providing information on proposed legislation and has evolved into excessive lobbying of both the Legislature and outside groups on many issues that are in within the purview of the Legislature, including predator control, state parks and captive cervids.”

And, “This overreach by the Director and his leadership team applies to nearly all of the programs of the Division including law enforcement, wildlife, parks and fisheries.”

These legislators want the director to do what then? Law enforcement, wildlife resources, parks and fisheries are his purview under the state code!

Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, called for the resignation of the director for lobbying the Legislature “excessively” against deer farms. How could that be?

Did the director provide the Legislature with a lunch of deer meat like Agricultural Commissioner Walt Helmick did? He did not.

Was the director attending the hearing of the House Agriculture Committee on deer pens like Helmick did when the deer farms were being discussed? He did not.

Did Helmick stand up and tell the House Committee that in the interest of edification there were over a dozen sportsmen and four sportsman’s groups that would like to give the committee their opinion? Sure that happened (sarcasm font is unavailable).

The Senate Agriculture Committee and House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee had this bill on greased skids like Jim Justice’s tax break that sailed through the Legislature. Get in the way and get run over.

They only called on one sportsman’s group, the West Virginia National Wild Turkey Federation representative to answer their questions; they didn’t care about his or our opinions.

The committee chairman allowed the denigration of the turkey federation representative by his committee members. I was at the meeting and to be quite honest it was not the House of Delegates finest hour!

Apparently ex-Sen. Walt Helmick pushed his old Senate buddies to get deer reclassified as livestock and to give his new agency the regulation of the deer farms.

Does DNR Director Frank Jezioro have any Senate buddies? Very few apparently, but he does listen to the sportsmen and women of this state; wish I could say the same of the Senate and House of Delegates.

Sportsmen are not being represented by senators or delegates. West Virginia is the only state on the East Coast that does not have a legislative sportsman’s caucus and there is a good reason; it would be hard to find a sportsman in that Capitol complex that fights for you day and night.

That is what should change instead of changing the director of DNR.

Finally we get to the real rub in Charleston against the sportsmen of West Virginia. The letter stated: “We further call for a complete review of the operations of the Division of Natural Resources including any and all funding sources.”

Hunters and anglers, that is what the legislators want: your license monies. They want the DNR budget in the general fund. They are licking their chops on that vast license funding mechanism.

Just like other botched legislation they manage to eventually pass without reading (including their letters to the governor apparently), they ignore that federal rules and regulations state your monies, your license fees, and federal tax monies cannot be used by them but must be managed by the DNR for the express purpose of wildlife habitat management and improvements.

It is very odd that the DNR falls under the Department of Commerce in our state instead of being a stand-alone agency.

The DNR should answer to the sporting men and women and the governor of this state. Frank Jezioro has listened to hunters more than legislators have in the 27 years I have been working with sportsman’s groups.

That is why they are mad. Helmick must call his dogs off. They are embarrassing the rest of the pack in this hunt!

Of course if you think it sporting to shoot a deer inside a 12-foot chain link fence and that is your answer to diversifying West Virginia’s economy, then turn them loose!

Charlie Nichols is an outdoor enthusiast of upland hunting, working with many sportsmen’s organizations to further wildlife habitat enhancement on public lands.

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