West Virginia sportsmen and women stand to lose more ground as the State Legislature moves forward. Senator Mark Maynard's new Outdoor Recreation Committee seems to have a singular mission in mind: making sure that off-highway vehicle (OHV) use is the main focus and the new direction for recreation on West Virginia’s public lands.
Currently, Senate Bill 468 seeks to make permanent OHV trails on Cabwaylingo State Forest. Proposed changes to the bill include the potential to expand OHV trail systems and connectors into other state public lands. It’s no surprise that our public lands become the first target for every new user group seeking to increase the quality or quantity of their experiences. However public lands in this state were created to preserve and protect the beauty and abundance that our mountains and rivers have to offer.
West Virginia’s 96 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) for example, totaling roughly 400,000 acres throughout the state, provide visitors and residents with outstanding hunting and fishing. The acquisition of and management of these lands is a critical component of the WV Division of Natural Resources’ mission of managing the state’s wildlife in the public trust. The WMA program was initially spurred by the decline in public access to private land and the continual destruction of critical wildlife habitats. Largely funded by the more than 450,000 sportsmen and women throughout the state through license expenditures and federal Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program dollars from excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment, these public lands have a circular function of providing a resource and an opportunity to the people that willingly fund the very programs to make it possible. As a result, wildlife and fisheries throughout the state can be effectively managed with an assurance that future generations can carry forward the traditions of hunting and fishing and enjoy, in perpetuity, the abundant natural resources West Virginia has to offer.
Year after year Senator Maynard proposes motorsport and OHV access legislation that would not only impact the quality of hunting and fishing experiences on our public lands; it would potentially destroy habitat in some of our most sacred grounds throughout the state. The impacts have been well documented throughout the country, from user conflicts and unauthorized trail use to the destruction of fish habitat through sedimentation and stream crossings and the fragmentation of habitat and displacement of wildlife.
The OHV community should develop their own programs and funding mechanisms for rider safety and acquiring new trail systems. Our state has millions of acres of abandoned mine lands and private properties that could be purchased and utilized for recreational trail riding. To target public lands that hunters and anglers utilize for the support of West Virginia’s wildlife and the very foundation of our sporting traditions is a step in the wrong direction for our wildlife resources and the sportsmen and women of our state who depend upon them.