Age restrictions on youth hunting days draw public criticism

FLATWOODS, W.Va. – Members of the Natural Resources Commission may soon consider adjusting the age requirements on youth hunting seasons in West Virginia.  Presently the seasons are limited to a minimum age of eight.  The limit has evolved over time as rules changed with regard to hunter education requirements.

However, during Sunday’s meeting of the Commission in Flatwoods, members of the public complained the law is inconsistent and actually deters hunting for youngsters under the age of eight.

Thomas Wood of Buckhannon spoke about the measure on behalf of his daughter who is age seven and enjoys hunting during the regular hunting seasons, but because of her age cannot hunt during a youth season.

“She’s not allowed because she’s seven years old and eight is the minimum age.  I’m just asking for consistencies in youth season same as regular hunting season,” he explained.

“I’m in agreement on the youth hunting age,” Cody Boone of Weston told commissioners.  “There are fewer hunters out there during the youth season, but there shouldn’t be an age limit.”

Colonel Bobby Cales of the Division of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Section told members of the Commission he saw no reason why the law shouldn’t have a consistent age.  The Commission agreed to look at the changes to make it more consistent on next year’s agenda.

NEW COMMISSIONER – DNR Director Brett McMillion welcomed new Natural Resources Commissioner Tennis Cook of Wyoming County.  Cook participated in his first meeting since his appointment to take the position of former Commissioner B.K. Chambers.

NRPO RECRUITMENT – Cales also updated the Commission on recruiting efforts for Natural Resources Police Officers.

“We have 131 positions and five are on the Hatfield McCoy Trails.  We have 126 assigned to field operations.  There are 110 active officers, four are on extended military leave,” Cales explained.

Three new officers will graduate from the State Police Academy next Friday. They’ll be assigned to Lewis, Upshur, and Lincoln County.  However, the Lincoln County officer will work there only until his required field training is complete and will transfer to the Hatfield-McCoy Trails.   The agency has completed a recent recruiting and testing push and has 21 qualified recruits who have passed background, physical agility tests, and the written portion.

“We had to expand our recruiting efforts throughout the state to attract applicants and to be able to advertise and recruit in the areas where we draw from.  We’ve had to get a lot more creative with our recruiting efforts,” he explained.

Cales also reported creation and dedication of a monument in Hinton, W.Va. which recognized the state’s first Game Warden E.F. Smith who was from Hinton.  The marker was placed on the courthouse square in Hinton in recent days as part of the NRPO’s 125th Anniversary.  The project was a collaborative effort of the Division of Natural Resources and the Summers County Commission along with the NRPO Association.

QUAIL PROJECT – Assistant Chief for Game Steve Rauch gave members of the commission a presentation on the Governor’s Quail Reintroduction Program.   The presentation included a video of the program to release pen raised quail on six wildlife management areas and one state forest.   Governor Jim Justice heavily advocated for the program.

“The Governor is very excited about bob white quail and it’s a good program,” said Rauch. “We get reports back each week when the birds are released.  Then when seeds are spread, they are seeing birds and flushing them.  They’ve been seeing birds consistently and they seem to be hanging in there.”

The final release will be this coming week.  The state has release more than 1,000 coveys of approximately 25 birds.

TROUT PROJECT – Commissioners were given an update on another of the Governor’s pet projects, the Monster Trout Program.   Hatchery Programs Manager Jim Hedrick gave the presentation in which 250 brood trout stocked during the two week fall trout stocking were tagged.  Those who successfully caught the trout could report the catch on-line for a free Monster Trout hat.

Hedrick spend the bulk of his presentation explaining the multi-Million dollar upgrades recently completed at the Bowden Trout Hatchery in Randolph County.  The improvements significantly increased the hatchery’s capacity to spawn and rear fish.  Hedrick explained the improvements also eliminated the need to use the Shavers Fork River as a water source. Water now comes from a nearby spring and with UV filtration systems, the water can be recirculated to increase the hatchery’s capacity in the raceways.

“These upgrades make it easier to keep at the water at optimal growing temperature with the single water source. Also by eliminating the river water from the hatchery we remove a major disease concern because water from the river could carry a number of diseases and parasites,” explained Hedrick.

The entire operation is monitored and controlled by computer.  Hedrick said at any time, day or night, alarms will alert hatchery personnel of any problems immediately which can be accessed from anywhere with a computer connection.   Hedrick admitted it was a benefit, but also a concern.

“I made sure if we did have an issue with the computers we could go to fully manual operations and we still have the option, if we have issues with the water flow we can flip a switch and bring water from the river back in if it’s an emergency, “he said.

He added the critical liquid oxygen system which is an integral part of the process operated independently from the rest of the hatchery systems and was separate from the other hatchery controls.

“We believe we will be able to increase annual capacity from 200,000 pounds to over 300,000 pounds,” he explained.

The new facility includes a learning curve and Hedrick said it will take some time to learn how to work the facility to optimum efficiency, but once they have figured out the process anglers will noticed larger numbers of trout and an increase in the average size of trout stocked in West Virginia.

FUTURE AGENDA:  The dates for the 2023 sectional meetings will be February 26 in South Charleston at DNR Headquarters, April 23 at Pipestem State Park, August 6 at the Flatwoods Days Inn, and October 29 at Stonewall Resort.

McMillion sought input from each commissioner on what they wanted to see on the agenda for those meetings.  Commissioner Jared Harmon was adamant that all of the proper channels be followed to get the much talked about buck limit on the agenda and through the public review process properly so it can be put to a vote to ultimately lower the number of bucks a hunter can take from three to two.

“Whatever we need to do to make sure we can get it out for public comment and sectional meetings.  The public wants another vote and I want to make sure we go through whatever channels need to be taken are taken,” he said.

Commissioner Jeff Bowers asked the Wildlife Section to look at counties where there is a limit of three antlerless deer to consider requiring hunters to kill a doe in all of those counties before a second buck can be taken.

Bowers also suggested rethinking the requirement that all extra buck tags be purchased prior to the season’s opening date.

Commissioner Janet Hamric Hodge asked the Wildlife Section to consider elimination of the March beaver trapping season and to allow the beaver trapping to end with all other animals at the end of February.   Hodge said the idea is favored by the West Virginia Trappers Association because of the issue of accidentally trapping otters during the season.

“Typically the March traps for beaver are drowning set and those otter aren’t surviving.  What we’re hearing is people who catching otters are checking them in as February kills and if they’ve already had an otter checked in, they let it float and waste it,” she explained.

DNR Wildlife Chief Paul Johansen suggested a change in regulation would be difficult because of federal and international regulations which West Virginia is tied into.  He said, biologically the situation poses no threat to otter numbers, but also suggested if illegal activity is occurring law enforcement should be notified. Johansen added his staff would take a look at the issue.

In a related not, Johansen told the Commission the search is underway for the replacement for the DNR’s Fur Bearer Biologist following the death of late biologist Rich Rogers.