The next meeting of the West Virginia Natural Resources Commission might be the most unusual one ever held.
At 1 p.m. on May 31, the seven-person panel will meet at Stonewall Jackson State Park to vote on changes to some of the state’s hunting regulations. This meeting will be different from all those held in the past, though, because no members of the sporting public will be in the room.
To keep the meeting under the 25-person limit prescribed by the state’s COVID-19 social-distancing recommendations, only members of the commission, selected DNR officials and a handful of media representatives will attend. The public, usually a prominent part of the meetings, will view the proceedings online.
The lack of a physical public presence no doubt comes as a disappointment to proponents of a reduction of the state’s bag limit for buck deer. Division of Natural Resources director Steve McDaniel had promised a vote on the proposal at this meeting.
At past meetings, lower-buck-limit advocates had shown up in force to advocate for their cause. McDaniel said the COVID-19 situation simply wouldn’t allow that at the May 31 meeting.
“We’re doing our best to make it an open forum,” he added. “We want people to be able to participate. We’re planning to use Zoom [online meeting service] to allow the public to sit in on the proceedings.”
Members of the public can watch the meeting live by tuning in on the DNR’s Facebook page, or on the West Virginia Department of Commerce’s YouTube page.
To access the meeting by phone, members of the public can call 1-681-245-6817 and use conference ID number 401 058 44#.
No public comments will be allowed at the meeting. Instead, DNR officials are allowing written comments to be submitted via email or regular mail. The comment period will end at 5 p.m. on May 26.
Comments must be submitted by email to WVNR Commission@wv.gov or sent by mail to the following address: West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, c/o Director Stephen McDaniel, 324 4th Ave., South Charleston, WV 25303.
The meeting’s agenda does not guarantee there will be a vote on the buck-limit issue; rather, the agenda item calls for “consideration of reducing the annual bag limit for antlered bucks per hunter per year, from three to two.”
McDaniel said he hopes the commission “takes a direction and decides one way or the other” on the issue.
“We’ve kicked it down the road a couple of times,” he added. “It’s probably time we had a decision.”
Before the commission takes up the buck-limit issue, it will hear a report via telephone from Southwick Associates, a public-opinion research company that recently surveyed West Virginians’ opinions as to whether the state’s hunting-license fees should be restructured.
The Southwick report will, in all likelihood, affect commissioners’ willingness to vote for a lowered buck limit, since a lowered limit under the current license structure would probably cause the DNR to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in license revenue, at least at first.
The agency already has taken a budget hit in 2020 that could approach $1.5 million, due to a 30-day fishing-license moratorium and a 27-day extension of that moratorium, both ordered by Gov. Jim Justice to give state residents an enhanced opportunity to fish during the height of the COVID-19 quarantine restrictions.
Commissioners will also vote on the DNR’s recommendations for the state’s 2020-21 hunting seasons.
Agency biologists proposed only minor changes to existing deer- and bear-season lengths and bag limits. The most significant hunting-regulation change, if approved, would extend the spring turkey season from its current four weeks to five. The season would still begin on the third Monday in April, and the added week would be tacked onto the back end.
Another proposed change would allow coyote hunters to hunt at night year-round. Currently, the night-hunting season begins on Jan. 1 and ends on Aug. 31.