West Virginia wildlife officials are seeking more liberal hunting regulations for deer and bears in 2017.
Division of Natural Resources officials proposed a list of changes at Sunday’s meeting of the state Natural Resources Commission, the seven-member panel that sets season dates, lengths and limits for hunting and fishing.
Gary Foster, the DNR’s assistant wildlife chief, called the proposed regulations “moderate liberalizations” of the existing regs.
“The majority of the counties will have the same regulations as last year,” he said. “But there are counties where the bag limits or season structures will become more liberal.”
Antlerless-deer regulations, for example, will become more liberal in 18 counties or parts of counties. Only in two counties will they become more restrictive. Thirty-three counties, or parts thereof, will have the same regulations they had in 2016.
Some hunters might be surprised that DNR officials decided to loosen regulations. The 2016 buck kill fell sharply from the year before. Usually when that happens, antlerless-deer regulations get tightened.
Foster said, however, that the state’s deer-management plan calls for biologists to use the buck kill’s two-year running average as their measuring stick.
“The 2014 [buck] harvest was poorer than the 2016 harvest,” he explained. So when we looked at the average for 2015-16 versus the average for 2014-15, the 2015-16 average was higher — enough to trigger a slight liberalization of the bag limits in some counties.”
Foster also pointed out that the 2016 antlerless-deer kill was poorer than biologists anticipated, which means there will be a surplus of antlerless deer in 2017. “We factored that into our equation, too,” he said.
If approved by the commission, here’s how the antlerless-deer regulations would look this fall:
n Five portions of counties would be closed to antlerless-deer hunting: southern Clay, western Fayette, southern Kanawha, western Raleigh and southern Wayne.
n Ten counties, or portions thereof, would be open to antlerless-deer hunting with lottery-drawn permits and a one-deer seasonal bag limit: Boone (600 permits), northern Clay (350), eastern Fayette (500), northern Greenbrier (200), western Mineral (200), Nicholas (600), western Pendleton (200), Pocahontas (300), eastern Raleigh (400) and northern Wayne (400).
n Seven counties would be open to antlerless-deer hunting with an unrestricted number of permits and a one-deer seasonal bag limit: Hancock, Lincoln, Marshall, Ohio, Randolph, Tucker and Webster.
n Fourteen counties, or portions thereof, would be open to antlerless-deer hunting with unrestricted permits and a three-deer seasonal bag limit: Barbour, Braxton, Brooke, Cabell, Grant, Jefferson, northern Kanawha, Mason, Mercer, Monongalia, eastern Pendleton, Preston, Summers and Wetzel.
n Twenty-three counties, or portions thereof, would be open to antlerless-deer hunting with unrestricted permits, a three-deer seasonal bag limit and a requirement to kill an antlerless deer before killing a second buck: Berkeley, Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, southern Greenbrier, Hampshire, Hardy, Harrison, Jackson, Lewis, Marion, eastern Mineral, Monroe, Morgan, Pleasants, Putnam, Ritchie, Roane, Taylor, Tyler, Upshur, Wirt and Wood.
All of the DNR’s bear-hunting proposals are liberalizations of existing regulations. Foster said the biggest change would come in 12 counties in which hunters were, on a limited-permit basis, allowed to hunt bears during the firearm season for buck deer. Effective this fall, permits would no longer be required in Barbour, Braxton, Clay, Grant, Greenbrier, Hardy, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, Tucker, Upshur and Webster counties. Hunters would be allowed to use dogs in those counties.
If adopted, another agency proposal would extend the early-September bear firearm season by one day in Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties. The proposed nine-day hunt, which would begin on Sept. 2 and would end on Sept. 10, would encompass two Saturdays.
Other significant changes to bear seasons are as follows:
n Five counties formerly open only during the archery and December firearm seasons would be opened to limited-permit hunting during the buck firearm season: Cabell, Doddridge, Marion, Marshall and Wetzel. Hunters in those counties would not be allowed to use dogs.
n Three counties where limited permits were required during the buck firearm season — Calhoun, Gilmer and Wirt — would change to no-permit-needed. Hunters in those counties would not be allowed to use dogs.
Foster said regulations in those counties were liberalized to prevent problems between bears and humans.
“We want to keep those bear populations low,” he explained. “Cabell is a good example. We can’t afford to have lots of bears in a county that has a big city like Huntington, lots of people and lots of roads.”
Paul Johansen, the DNR’s wildlife chief, believes hunters will accept the changes without much resistance.
“We have season frameworks that allow counties to filter in and out of different management categories,” he said. “I think hunters have developed a level of trust with us on that.”
The most prominent fishing-regulation change unveiled at the meeting will open a formerly private 1-mile stretch of Grant County’s Spring Run, a trout stream, to public catch-and-release fly fishing. The DNR is in the process of acquiring the property and wanted the commission to approve the regulations so the section can be opened as soon as possible. Commissioners unanimously approved the agency’s request.
The commission meeting was the first for new DNR Director Steve McDaniel, appointed to the post earlier in the week by Gov. Jim Justice. McDaniel, a former medical supply executive, said he is an avid deer hunter and trout fisherman. He pledged to listen carefully to the state’s sportsmen during his tenure as director.
DNR officials plan to share and explain all of the agency’s regulation proposals in a mid-March series of 12 public hearings held in all six of the state’s game- and fish-management districts. Input from sportsmen and landowners who comment on the proposals will be relayed to Natural Resources Commission members, who will put the proposals up for a final vote at the panel’s April 23 meeting at North Bend State Park.
Reach John McCoy at email@example.com, 304-348-1231 or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.