Once again, West Virginians’ talent for good-natured disagreement has prevailed.
Last Tuesday’s public meeting about the proposed Chief Logan State Park deer hunt had plenty of potential to be volatile. The issue seemed to have divided the county into two fairly equal camps — those who opposed the hunt and those who favored it.
For more than a month, proponents and opponents of the hunt had used social media to promote the meeting and urge people to attend. As I drove down to Logan to cover the event, I figured at least 100 people would show up. I also figured that if the speakers’ rhetoric became fiery enough, the atmosphere might get a bit heated.
Someone else must have thought so, too, because two sheriff’s deputies showed up to keep the peace.
Well, the “crowd” turned out not to be much of a crowd at all, and the meeting was amicable despite a surprise outcome. The event was scheduled for 6 p.m., but the number of attendees that had arrived by then could be counted on one set of fingers and toes.
The meeting finally got started a little after 6:30. I counted 25 people in the audience.
People sitting on the stage included Eddie Lawson, president of the Big Game Hunters of West Virginia, the group that sponsored the meeting; Steve McDaniel, director of the state Division of Natural Resources; Sam England, chief of West Virginia’s park system; Capt. Terry Ballard of the Natural Resources Police; and state Sens. Mark Maynard (R-Mingo) and Ron Stollings (D-Boone).
In his opening remarks, Lawson expressed his disappointment with the turnout.
“I’m disappointed in the turnout,” he said. “We anticipated a much larger crowd, especially when you consider how many texts and Facebook posts there have been on both sides of the issue.”
He then turned the lectern over to England, who launched into a presentation that included the history of managed deer hunts on state parks, the ecological justifications for such hunts, and the positive social and ecological impacts those hunts had made. England also explained what he called the DNR’s “new strategy” to make managed hunts more efficient by allowing hunters the freedom to move from fixed, pre-assigned hunting locations.
He then turned the microphone over to McDaniel, who began what seemed at first blush to be a defense of the DNR’s decision to conduct a hunt at Chief Logan.
McDaniel pointed out that the Chief Logan hunt would be focused on areas near the edge of the park, areas he said were often hunted illegally from the outside. He pointed out that Logan County as a whole enjoyed a record harvest just two years ago. And, finally, he pointed out that area residents have released up to 75 deer into the park in recent years.
Then he dropped the bombshell.
“We have decided to cancel the hunt,” he said. “In recent months, we have received a great deal of emotional feedback from people for and against the hunt at Chief Logan. We don’t want to have a program that would drive a wedge in the community. It’s not worth turning neighbor against neighbor.”
The announcement appeared to take everyone by surprise, especially hunters who had hoped to be some of the lucky few chosen to receive buck tags.
However, it didn’t seem to surprise Scott Siegel, a Logan-area veterinarian who had led the effort to stop the hunt. Siegel said a lawyer had, through the Freedom of Information Act, obtained an internal DNR memo that advised against holding a hunt at Chief Logan. Siegel had planned to read it later in the meeting, but McDaniel’s announcement made it pointless.
So, just like that, this year’s hunt went away. The issue, however, probably won’t. At some point, the deer population on Chief Logan might expand enough to necessitate a controlled hunt.
Will the citizens of Logan County celebrate a future hunt, or will they refuse it? Whichever they choose, I hope they’ll do so in a way that avoids hard feelings.