By JOHN McCoy
Every year, Division of Natural Resources biologists propose changes for the regulations that govern West Virginia's hunting and fishing laws.
To gauge people's opinions about the proposals, DNR officials list them in a questionnaire and put them before the public. They then compile the results and forward them to the Natural Resources Commission, the seven-member panel charged with setting season dates and bag limits.
Here's how it works. Once biologists make the proposals, the questionnaires are drawn up and sent out to clubs and individuals. People who attend the DNR's public meetings in March can also pick up questionnaires there.
After the questionnaires are collected, DNR officials total up the results. This year, the agency received 323 questionnaires from individuals and 55 from clubs and organizations representing 7,802 members.
At the most recent Natural Resources Commission meeting on May 5, agency officials made public this year's results.
The question that drew the most attention was one put on the questionnaire at the request of DNR director Steve McDaniel: "[Do] you favor reducing the annual antlered-deer bag limit from three (3) to two (2) antlered bucks per year?"
The question drew responses from 317 individuals and 52 clubs. Among the individuals, 220 (69.4 percent) were in favor and 97 (30.6 percent) were opposed. Among clubs, 35 (67.3 percent) were in favor and 17 (32.7 percent) were opposed.
McDaniel wanted the question on the survey because he anticipated a vote on the question at the commission's Aug. 4 meeting. If the debate at the meeting is any indication, that vote might or might not take place.
The reason is a bit convoluted, but I'll try my best to explain.
The DNR has entered into an agreement with a highly respected national polling firm, Southwick Associates, to determine how hunting-license buyers feel about how their deer-hunting privileges are packaged.
The survey would give agency officials an idea of how many more or fewer licenses would be sold if the privileges were repackaged in one way or another.
For example, if the base license allowed a hunter to take two antlered bucks instead of three, but also to take two antlerless deer without purchasing supplemental doe stamps, would hunters still be willing to purchase hunting licenses, and at what price?
It's an important consideration. The DNR gets the lion's share of its annual revenue from hunting-license sales, and deer hunters buy more licenses than anyone by far.
During the commission meeting, McDaniel said he expected to have survey results from Southwick by August, at least in regard to hunters' opinions about a two-buck limit. He indicated that the commission could make an informed vote based on that.
Some of the commissioners disagreed. They said they wanted to have an idea of how such a measure would affect the DNR's bottom line before they took such a step.
The exchanges weren't exactly heated, but they were definitely spirited. There were clear differences of opinion, and it isn't yet certain how a final vote might go.
The Aug. 4 meeting will take place at Tygart Lake State Park. Unless I miss my guess, it will be anything but boring.