WVDNR unveils proposed changes to Hunting and Fishing Regulations

By Roger Wolfe - Outdoors Columnist

Each year the Natural Resources Game Commission meets on a quarterly basis to set the regulations and bag limits that govern our wildlife rules and guidelines. This commission is made up of civilian commissioners appointed to the position by the governor and it is their duty to oversee the management of the state’s wildlife resources.

The commissioners work closely with the WVDNR biologists and game managers and the hunters they serve to help determine an appropriate balance between harvesting and protecting the game species of the state. The most recent meeting of the commission was held late last month and the WVDNR unveiled its proposed changes for the upcoming seasons.

Topics on the agenda included the season dates and bag limits for the 2016-2017 fall hunting seasons and the 2017 fishing regulations. As always, there were a few minor changes and adjustments to the seasons and bag limits, but there were no big changes proposed for the majority of the hunting season this fall.

The one change that hits closest to home this year comes by way of a fall turkey season. While the southern counties often flirt with a fall either sex season, there hasn’t been a statewide fall season proposed as far back as I can remember. That may very well change this year.

The WVDNR has proposed a one week state wide fall turkey season for October 8-15, 2016. The traditional turkey counties will still host a longer (2 or 4 week) fall season based on the bench mark numbers of the spring gobbler kill, but hunters all over the state will be afforded at least one week for fall birds if the commission approves the measure at their next meeting.

Other proposed changes included some form of liberalizing the antlerless deer harvest in 21 counties across the state, while tightening back the limit on two counties. All remaining counties open to antlerless deer hunting would remain the same as in 2015.

Black bear seasons across the state would see some fine tuning as well. The southern four bowhunting only counties would be able to hunt bear uninterrupted from September 24th to December 31, 2016 with archery and crossbow equipment. In years past there were always a few breaks in the season in which a bear couldn’t be harvested. This new season format will open the door to taking a black bear throughout the deer archery season in the southern counties.

Several other counties will see some liberalization on bear hunting as well. The increased opportunity for bear hunting isn’t surprising coming off of a record harvest of the bruins and given the bear populations appearing to be at an all-time high in the state. That being said, the WVDNR did propose to do away with a couple of limited permit hunts on the Nathaniel and Short Mountain WMA’s in Hampshire County.

There were a few proposed changes to the fishing side of the regulations as well. These proposed changes won’t take effect until the 2017 fishing season, but are just as important.

The biggest change on the fishing side of the regulations are new rules to protect the trophy flathead catfish along the Ohio and Kanawha rivers. In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in commercial fishing along the rivers targeting these larger catfish.

Fishermen will use a variety of methods to catch large numbers of the big whisker-fish so they can sell them to pay lakes and ponds in surrounding states. Neighboring states have already enacted regulations to help curb this commercial industry and, in effect, forced more pressure on the bigger waters of the Mountain State where no such regulations existed.

Several local catfishermen were in attendance at the meeting to express concern about over fishing what is currently becoming a destination fishery for catfish in the state. They said the proposed regulations are a good start, but more could still be done to protect our trophy cats.

Along with catfish, a couple of new catch and release sections were proposed for trout in some of the mountain counties. The WVDNR also proposed to designate a 300-yard section of Clear Fork in Wyoming County along Gilland Park in Oceana as a Children and Class Q fishery. This would definitely increase the odds for those younger and physically challenged fishermen to catch a few fish and enjoy a day on the water.

The next step for all of the proposed regulations changes is to go out for public comment. The WVDNR will hold 12 public meetings at various locations around the state on March 14th and 15th. Locally interested outdoorsmen and women can attend the meeting at Twin Falls State Park on March 14th or at Chief Logan State Park Conference Center on March 15th.

Meetings are held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and are very casual with information stations located around the room with DNR personnel who can take questions and make notes of concerns to be tabulated and passed on to the commission. If you can’t make it to one of the meetings, written comments are encouraged.

The regulation proposals and questionnaire are posted at www.wvdnr.gov. Just look for the link in the shaded box at the top of the page. You can even print the form and simply mail it back to the DNR to let your voice be heard.

The proposed regulation changes won’t be final until after the commission makes its ruling at their May 1st meeting. So be sure to get out to one of the public forums or send in your opinions on the form from the WVDNR and help regulate those game species we all love to get out and enjoy.

By Roger Wolfe

Outdoors Columnist

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