Something interesting just happened in Colorado.
Effective July 1, everyone age 18 or older who enters a state-owned or state-leased wildlife area must have a valid hunting or fishing license.
Yes, those lands are considered “public” lands, and thus are open to public recreation. Hunters and anglers use them, but so do hikers, mountain bikers, picnickers, berry pickers, photographers, wildlife watchers — you get the point.
In Colorado, nonhunters and nonanglers were causing problems. Hikers and mountain bikers, in particular, were straying off the areas’ trails, and their wanderings were pushing elk, deer, bears and other wildlife farther and farther into the backcountry.
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, those folks also were putting a lot of wear and tear on roads and were causing trails to erode and deteriorate.
Why was this a problem?
Nonhunters and nonanglers didn’t help pay for the lands they were using. Colorado’s wildlife areas aren’t taxpayer-funded. They were purchased with hunting- and fishing-license money, and with federal funds tied to the sale of those licenses.
So, in essence, Colorado’s hunters and anglers were finding themselves crowded off lands they paid for by people who didn’t.
I don’t know how much that’s happening here in West Virginia, but I suspect it is to some extent. The state Division of Natural Resources manages 99 wildlife management areas that comprise roughly 420,000 acres. They also manage about 80,000 acres in eight state forests, but most state-forest lands were purchased by taxpayers.
Hunters and anglers use WMA lands, of course, but so do berry pickers, ginseng diggers, hikers, mountain bikers and other recreationists. It makes sense, at least to me, that nonhunters and nonanglers should ante up for the privilege of setting foot on lands they didn’t pay for.
Mountain State hunters and anglers paid for WMAs with money they voluntarily shelled out when they purchased licenses. Included in each license purchase is a $5 Conservation Stamp that goes to buy land and maintain infrastructure. In the past few years, DNR officials have used that money to dramatically expand the size and number of WMAs, particularly in the state’s western and southwestern counties.
Nonhunters and nonanglers have been welcome to use those lands, even though they didn’t contribute to their purchase. While there’s little evidence that nonsporting folks are doing much harm to West Virginia’s WMAs, I believe the state should require them to purchase hunting or fishing licenses — or at least those $5 Conservation Stamps — to gain access to those lands in years to come.
State forest users would be exempted, of course, since most state forests were purchased with tax dollars. Ditto the national forests, which were purchased with federal tax money.
Getting it through the Legislature probably wouldn’t be easy. Frankly, any legislation that would benefit the DNR has been a tough sell in recent years.
Requiring a full license purchase, and not just a stamp, would not only aid the agency’s ability to purchase additional property. It would also allow the DNR to attract more federal money for its fish and wildlife programs.
Federal allocations are based on the number of license holders a state has. Adding a few thousand people to West Virginia’s total could bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be used to make the outdoors a better place for everyone.
Colorado will certainly benefit. Why not West Virginia?