West Virginia’s 60-day legislative season is in full swing, and a slew of hunting- and fishing-related bills are in the works.
Here are the highlights and lowlights:
Senate Bill 331 would allow hunters to use dogs to track wounded deer or bears. The dogs would have to be kept on leashes. The bill further stipulates that the dog’s handlers must maintain control of the leashes at all times.
I like it. It’s a fact of life that not all animals shot by hunters are recovered. Using dogs would increase recovery rates and reduce the number of deer and bears that would otherwise go to waste.
Speaking of waste, SB 305 and HB 2540 would place criminal penalties on hunters who intentionally allow game animals and fish to go to waste. For example, people could be fined or jailed who take only the antlers off a buck, the beard and spurs off a turkey, or the claws off a bear, and leave the meat to spoil. If lawmakers can make the bills specific enough to avoid turning law-abiding people into criminals, this legislation should pass.
Another that needs to pass, at least in my opinion, is SB 332, which would allow people with severe heart and lung conditions to be eligible for Class Q “handicap” licenses. They’d still have to buy licenses, but they’d be given access to roads and trails that are more easily negotiated.
Two bills that shouldn’t pass involve “slippery slope” issues. SB 416 would allow resident landowners to hunt bears over bait. How long would it be, then, until other bear hunters demand the same privilege?
HB 2097 would allow year-round hunting of coyotes at night, using artificial light and night-vision gear. Any bets on how long it would take to find “coyote hunters” out on the night before the buck firearm season?
Lawmakers are always looking for ways to hand out freebies to special-interest groups, and at least eight bills deal with awarding free or discounted hunting and fishing licenses to groups of constituents.
Two Senate bills, SB 37 and SB 141, would give volunteer firefighters their licenses for free; SB 278 and HB 2030 would hand out free licenses to all honorably discharged veterans; SB 279 would authorize a half-price discount on lifetime hunting licenses for foster children;
HB 2150 would provide a half-price discount on non-resident licenses for native West Virginians who moved out of state; HB 2578 would allow foster children of any age to hunt and fish without licenses; and HB 2582 would give free licenses to honorably discharged reservists as well as members of the regular armed forces.
Gee, what’s next? Let’s see, how about free licenses for deputy sheriffs and city police? Let’s not stop there; let’s toss in toll-booth workers on the West Virginia Turnpike, and maybe parking-meter attendants in cities with populations greater than 5,000.
Oh, and let’s not forget about our young people! Why don’t we exempt members of high-school basketball teams who average more than 10 points a game, or maybe every student who makes the B Honor Roll?
Keep in mind, folks, that the Division of Natural Resources’ wildlife and law enforcement programs receive every penny of their funding from license sales and from federal grants tied to the number of licenses sold. Every freebie, no matter how “deserved” it appears, takes away from the agency’s ability to manage wildlife and uphold the state’s game and fish laws. ’Nuff said.