ROANOKE — Last Sunday’s meeting of the state Natural Resources Commission was unique, for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, no members of the public were physically present.
The people in the meeting room included five of the seven commissioners, a few Division of Natural Resources officials and two reporters. Hunters, anglers and the remaining two commissioners were able to “virtually attend” the meeting via the Zoom online meeting- hosting service.
Those measures, of course, were in response to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines that limit public meetings to 25 people or fewer. Members of the public were encouraged to comment via email.
As someone who has covered dozens of these meetings over the past 40 years, the meeting seemed odd to me for another reason.
The commission’s second- quarter meetings usually focus on approval of big-game hunting regulation changes recommended by DNR biologists. Those votes usually are formalities. This time, they weren’t.
Four of the 10 votes occurred only after considerable debate.
The first involved the 2020 black-bear hunting regulation proposals, which overall were a bit more liberal than the 2019 regs. The lone sticking point proved to be the one regulation that would have been more conservative.
That regulation would have closed a 58-square-mile region of Preston County to hunting bears with dogs. The DNR proposed the regulation because some landowners complained about bear hunters trespassing on their lands.
After learning that only three bear-damage complaints had been received from the area in question, commissioners amended the proposal to allow bear hunting with dogs throughout Preston County.
The second involved a proposal that would have allowed all hunters age 14 and under to use crossbows in Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties, where crossbows are allowed only for handicapped hunters with special permits.
After debate, including a recommendation by DNR wildlife chief Paul Johansen to vote the proposal down and consider a special youth season during which crossbows could be used, commissioners did as Johansen recommended.
The third involved the DNR’s proposal to extend the spring turkey season by eight days.
The measure at first appeared to have clear sailing, but hit a snag when commissioner Jeff Bowers suggested an amendment to allow day-long hunting during the season’s final week. Under current regulations, hunting must end by 1 p.m.
DNR turkey project leader Mike Peters cautioned that day-long hunting has the potential to cause turkey nests to be poached and turkey hens to be poached. Johansen urged commissioners to withdraw the amendment until the question could be studied more thoroughly.
The amendment failed, and commissioners then passed the original proposal to extend the season.
The final debate centered on the DNR’s proposal to allow coyotes to be hunted at night year-round. Currently, the season ends on Aug. 31, just before the state’ deer seasons begin.
Commissioners expressed concerns that the lengthened season might encourage deer poaching, and might also create headaches for law enforcement personnel who might be called out to investigate shots fired at night during the deer season.
When the proposal came up for a vote, it died for lack of a motion to approve.