The 2022 West Virginia legislative session is at the halfway mark. We’ve been following the action to ensure that we can speak up for our chapter’s interests where needed. We have identified a few issues of concern during this legislative session and would like to bring them to your attention.
Managing Off-Highway Vehicle Use (OHV) on Public Lands
A series of bills have been introduced for a comprehensive motorized recreation program on our public lands under the guise of “wildlife viewing”. This program would open our Wildlife Management Areas, State Forests, and State Parks to motorized recreation from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year.
Off-highway vehicle use has well documented negative impacts on ecosystems and habitat including erosion, water quality, habitat fragmentation, invasive species, and noise. The additional activity would stress or displace wildlife, encouraging them to move onto private lands. This motorized recreation program would turn West Virginia’s public wildlife habitat and hunting areas - bought and paid for by our license dollars - into off-road playgrounds.
A motorized recreation program on West Virginia WMAs could very well threaten our state’s allocation of Pittman-Robertson federal funding as motorized recreation could be viewed as an improper secondary usage of funds. These are excise tax dollars that West Virginia hunters have already paid, but are designed to be used specifically for wildlife management. Turning our WMAs into OHV destinations endangers our wildlife funding.
We are not opposed to the state and private motorized recreation groups procuring new public lands or access agreements specifically for off-highway recreation and tourism, as was done with the Hatfield-McCoy Trails. We are opposed to expanding general motorized access on our established public lands and wildlife management areas. Such an expansion would be at the expense and displacement of existing user groups and to the detriment to the wildlife and fisheries that are sustained by the quality habitat on our public lands.
Associated Bills: SB 562, SB 563, SB 564, SB 565, SB 566, SB 579
Maximize Federal Match from License Sales
We have noted bills that eliminate or exempt license requirements. While we applaud the attempt to recognize our veteran and first responder communities - which include many of our members - we are wary of unintended consequences on license sales. Federal conservation funding from the Pittman-Robertson and Dingle-Johnson Acts is tied to the number of the licensed hunters and anglers in the state. In 2021, DNR received over $11 million from these funding sources, representing about 33% of the wildlife resources budget. By reducing the number of required licenses we could be leaving money on the table - money that West Virginians have already paid in federal taxes on firearms, ammunition, fishing supplies, and boat fuel. Mechanisms to credit or reduced license fees instead of an outright license exemption would be a worthwhile compromise.
Associated Bills: SB 143, SB 145, SB 163, SB 577, HB 2629, HB 4073, HB 4386, HB 4387
Let Wildlife Managers Manage the Wildlife
We are concerned about bills that reduce or limit the DNR’s role or latitude in wildlife management, including bag limits, season dates, and other management tools. The DNR and Natural Resources Commission are designed to be flexible, able to specifically tweak wildlife management to respond to biologist or public input in order to protect the resource and the hunting and fishing experience. Direct management of wildlife through legislation would be far more difficult to amend as conditions change and sets a troubling precedent.
Associated Bills: SB 65, SB 161, HB 2568