It’s too soon to say yet whether West Virginia’s new trout plan will make anglers happy, but at least they’re getting their say.
Division of Natural Resources officials just completed a series of six public meetings — a “listening tour,” if you like. I covered the Oct. 1 meeting at the DNR District 5 headquarters in Alum Creek, during which the meeting’s facilitators spent more than an hour and a half listening to anglers’ ideas, suggestions and complaints.
They didn’t just listen, either; they summarized each suggestion on a laptop computer, and projected their summary onto the wall so anglers could verify they’d been quoted correctly.
My, how times have changed.
A quarter century ago, the DNR wouldn’t have opened any long-term strategic planning process by enlisting public input. Instead, agency officials would have had a team of biologists draw up a draft plan, give the public a few weeks to comment on the draft, tweak it a little, and then adopt the final version whether the public liked it or not.
It was a top-down approach, one that left many anglers dissatisfied and frustrated.
Jim Hedrick, the DNR’s hatchery program manager, said he and other DNR officials want to create a plan for the coming decade that better reflects anglers’ current wants and needs.
Earlier this year, they created a feature on the agency’s website that allows anglers to go online and make suggestions. At the same time, they studied how many trout anglers were catching by having students from West Virginia University conduct creel surveys.
In early October, they had the six public meetings. Early next year, they plan to create a Stakeholder Advisory Committee, composed of anglers and other interested parties, to draft a plan. At the same time, a Technical Advisory Committee will attempt to make sure the plan is biologically and logistically feasible.
Sometime late next year, DNR officials hope to have a plan that’s complete enough to take to anglers for further input, probably during another series of public meetings. If all goes well, the agency’s new strategic trout plan should go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.
Will everyone like it?
Probably not. The state’s trout anglers generally fall into one of two camps — those who fish primarily for stocked trout and those who fish primarily for wild trout. Chances are the stocked-trout folks will ask for larger and more frequent stockings, and the wild-trout folks will ask for increased emphasis on wild fish. Each approach would have limits.
The state has seven trout hatcheries, each with a finite capacity to grow fish. I’m sure capacity could be expanded some, but probably not a lot. The state also has a finite number of streams that can wild or native trout, so no one should expect dramatic changes there.
Compromise will be the key. If each camp gets a little in the way of improvement, whatever its constituents determine it to be, satisfaction levels will rise. Ditto if there’s a perception that DNR officials are attempting to involve more young people in trout fishing.
If agency officials manage to create a balanced plan that that satisfies a sizable chunk of the trout-angling public, they will have worked a minor miracle. For the sake of the pastime, I hope they do.