When politicians make public-policy decisions, the results can look pretty messy.
The Aug. 2 meeting of the West Virginia Natural Resources Commission featured two decisions that might haunt the state’s hunters and anglers for a while.
The first affected trout fishing. The second affected deer hunting.
The commission — seven political appointees who set the state’s hunting and fishing regulations — was moving routinely through a series of proposed fishing-related changes when something unexpected happened.
One item on the agenda was the removal catch-and-release trout regulations on a 0.9-mile section of Shavers Fork adjacent to the Monongahela National Forest’s Stuart Park Recreation Area.
Division of Natural Resources biologists had recommended the removal for several reasons: One, the trout habitat in that stretch of the river is marginal, at best. Two, summertime water temperatures are marginal for trout. Three, people use that part of the river extensively for swimming during the hot months.
The commissioners were just about ready to vote on the proposal when one of them, Kenny Wilson, proposed an amendment.
He asked that catch-and-release regulations also be removed on a 4.3-mile section of the Cranberry River from the junction of the North and South forks downstream to the mouth of Dogway Fork.
Wilson said he had heard from constituents who asked that the regulations be removed so they could catch and kill trout from that section to eat as camp meals. The commission first voted to adopt the amendment, then voted to approve the amended proposal.
After the meeting, however, DNR director Steve McDaniel sent out text messages to inform the media that “there were procedural issues with Commissioner Wilson’s amendment.”
“Proper public notice was not given by the agency of a proposed change to a regulation and therefore the public was not given an opportunity to comment on the proposed change,” McDaniel wrote.
He said the DNR “will ask the commission to address this error at its October meeting.”
October commission meetings are usually pretty sleepy affairs, but I suspect this year’s might be a bit more contentious. Anglers who like catch-and-release fishing are not pleased with the decision. Unless I miss my guess, they’ll complain loud and long.
So will deer hunters stung by the commission’s later 4-3 refusal to reduce the state’s bag limit for buck deer.
The vote followed more than two years’ worth of intense lobbying by hunting groups who believe a lower limit will help the state grow more trophy bucks. To gauge public sentiment, the DNR commissioned an in-house study, two surveys by a well-known public-policy research firm, and informally polled sportsmen who responded to the agency’s annual hunting- and fishing-regulation questionnaire.
Each of the surveys revealed that a small majority actually did favor a lower limit.
In the end, concerns over the DNR’s finances appeared to sway commissioners away from making the change. The agency gets almost all its money from license revenue and federal matching funds, and some of the commissioners didn’t seem to want to eliminate a source of income without assurances the anticipated losses could be made up.
The vote infuriated proponents of a two-buck limit. They are quite a vocal bunch, and they have vowed to take their case to the Legislature.
After all, nothing messy ever happens when the Legislature gets involved in sportsmen’s affairs, right? Right?