Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

W.Va. trout stocking info available online

Where are they being stocked today?

It’s kind of odd in today’s Information Age, but I still get calls asking me if this or that stream got stocked with trout this week.

Folks who make those calls could get that information with a simple click of their computer mouse. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources posts same-day stocking information on the agency’s website.

DNR officials have a strict policy against releasing stocking schedules ahead of time, so the site gets updated after each day’s stockings have been completed. Still, it’s as up-to-date as the information can be.

Here’s the link to the stocking info site. Bookmark the link; otherwise you’ll have to click through the main DNR menu to get to the information.

West Virginians who turn 65 after Jan. 1, 2012 will be required to purchase $25 “senior lifetime licenses” before they can legally hunt or fish.

Lawmakers passed the so-called “senior lifetime license bill” during the closing hours of the recent legislative session. The “lifetime” part of the title means that people who turn 65 will need to purchase the licenses only once. People who turned 65 before Jan. 1, 2012 are “grandfathered” (an unfortunate term, but fitting) and will not have to purchase the licenses.

Division of Natural Resources officials sought the legislation so West Virginia could get a larger share of federal money. The money, paid by sportsmen in the form of special excise taxes on hunting equipment and fishing tackle, gets distributed to the states according to each state’s number of license holders, surface area and water acreage.

Most states require seniors to continue to purchase hunting and fishing licenses. West Virginia historically has not. Over the years, the Mountain State has lost millions of dollars it otherwise would have received to states that require seniors to buy licenses.

Now West Virginia will get that money. The feds have agreed to recognize each one-time license purchase for a period of 10 years.

By law, the additional money West Virginia receives must be used on programs to enhance fish or wildlife.

Update: Landowners and their immediate families, hunting on their own lands, will not have to purchase the senior licenses. 

Illinois DNR photo

West Virginia’s coyote hunters might be getting a little regulatory relief soon.

“For what?” I hear you ask. “They can hunt the critters at night for half the year, they can hunt them during the day all year long, there are no closed counties and there’s no bag limit.”

Even so, there are restrictions hunters consider onerous. Daytime coyote hunters can do pretty much as they wish, but nighttime hunters say they’re handicapped by regulations that restrict them to spotlights with red or amber lenses and to firearms no more powerful than .22 caliber rimfire.

The regulations were put into place to prevent deer from being spotlighted under the guise of coyote hunting. Regulators figured the amber or red lights would help law enforcement officers distinguish coyote hunters from deer spotlighters, who usually use powerful white lights. Regulators also figured .22-caliber rimfires would be too light for use on deer.

Since those regulations went into effect in 2006, Division of Natural Resources officials have had a change of heart. They’ve come to realize that the restrictions were too — well, restricting. Hunters discovered that the amber or red lights weren’t powerful enough, and that .22 caliber rifles didn’t pack enough wallop to kill coyotes on the spot.

DNR officials listened to the hunters, and they’ve proposed changes that, if approved, would go into effect in 2012.

The first change would allow hunters to use any color spotlight. The second would allow centerfire rifles of up to .22 caliber. Those would include the .22 Hornet, the .222, the .220 Swift, the .22-250 and the .223, all of which are proven varmint killers.

Sportsmen will get a chance to comment on the regulations at next week’s DNR sectional meetings. Members of the state Natural Resources Commission, the seven-man panel that sets fishing and hunting regulations, will take those comments under consideration and will decide — probably at their July meeting — whether or not to approve the changes.

Deer are wildlife, not livestock

This week’s column addresses a controversial bill currently being considered by the West Virginia Legislature — a bill, that in my estimation, could do serious damage to Mountain State deer hunting:

Before lawmakers make law, they should first consider any unintended consequences their legislation might have.
Some West Virginia lawmakers appear to have bought into the idea that captive deer and elk should be treated as livestock, not wildlife. A so-called “captive cervid” bill, which would transform that idea into law, recently passed the state Senate and was sent to the House of Delegates.
Should it pass the House and be signed by the governor, the measure would transfer jurisdiction for captive deer and elk from the state Division of Natural Resources to the state Department of Agriculture.
Naturally, the bill’s supporters have failed to consider its unintended side effects.
First, it appears to be a money-loser. West Virginia requires all potential legislation to contain “fiscal notes” that detail the legislation’s anticipated financial impact. The bill’s note estimates a captive cervid program under Agriculture would cost $75,000 a year and would take in just $15,000 a year in revenue.
The fiscal note also contains the following paragraph:
“Currently, the [Department of Agriculture] does not have the resources to absorb this additional responsibility. Although some of the activities may be covered by current employees, we will require additional services of a veterinarian that cannot be covered by current staff. These activities would also incur additional expense for equipment, supplies, travel and training. WVDA would require additional funding, whether in the form of a General Revenue appropriation or a Special Revenue fee (or both) established to cover the cost of the program.”
Second, the bill also makes no provision – such as double fencing or waste-disposal requirements – to prevent captive deer and elk from spreading diseases to wild deer. This is particularly disturbing; captive deer facilities have long been identified as jumping-off points for chronic wasting disease, tuberculosis and other deer- and elk-borne maladies.
Third, the bill would legalize the sale of white-tailed deer meat to wholesalers, stores and restaurants. Critics of the bill believe this provision would bring back the long-illegal practice of “market hunting,” a practice that by 1900 had rendered deer nearly extinct in the Mountain State.
The bill would exempt wild deer from sale, but would include no safeguards to prevent poachers from selling to unscrupulous vendors. It’s a scofflaw’s delight, especially during desperate economic times.
Finally, bill opponents believe Ag officials might try to compensate for their department’s lack of expert personnel by forcing Division of Natural Resources biologists or law enforcement officers to inspect farmers’ deer pens. If that ever happens, the DNR could lose millions of dollars in federal funding. Here’s why:
The state constitution says it’s illegal to “divert” money paid for fishing and hunting licenses for any purpose other than fish- and wildlife-related programs. The captive cervid bill would reclassify penned deer as livestock, not wildlife. Any livestock-related use of DNR personnel, who are paid primarily through license revenue, would therefore violate the constitution.
The feds don’t like diversions. In fact, they audit the DNR every five years to make sure no diversions take place. If the feds find evidence of diversions, they can cut off a state’s share of federal wildlife-program funding. West Virginia’s share of that money amounts to about $4 million a year.
Should Mountain State hunters and wildlife fanciers be forced to suffer the consequences of such poorly considered legislation – especially when the principal beneficiaries would be out-of-state fat cats whose idea of “hunting” is to shoot trophy bucks trapped in pens?
I think not.

W.Va. DNR seeks 12-inch limit for Ohio R. bass

Size limits coming soon?

In past years, West Virginia fisheries officials have resisted calls for minimum size limits on largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass.

Now they want them — at least on the portion of the Ohio River that borders the Mountain State.

Bret Preston, the Division of Natural Resources’ wamwater fisheries chief, requested the regulation change at a recent Natural Resources Commission meeting. If commission members approve the request, a 12-inch minimum size limit would go into effect Jan. 1, 2012. The limit would apply to all 256 miles of the Ohio River between the tip of the state’s Northern Panhandle to the mouth of the Big Sandy River near Kentucky.

Preston said DNR officials are seeking the change so West Virginia’s bass-fishing regulations will be consistent with those of other Ohio River states. A similar sake-of-consistency change went into effect earlier this year for white, hybrid and striped bass.

Anglers will get a chance to comment on the proposal at DNR sectional meetings scheduled for March 14-15 at 12 locations throughout the state.

W.Va. DNR proposes doe-season changes

Doe regulations a-changin'!

Last year’s 31 percent decline in West Virginia’s deer harvest apparently will lead to more conservative doe-hunting regulations during the upcoming hunting season.

At yesterday’s meeting of the West Virginia Natural Resources Commission, state wildlife officials revealed their proposals for antlerless hunting this year. Most counties had their bag limits reduced. Here’s a breakout of the proposed changes:  

  • Counties with four-doe limits that would drop to two-doe limits: Brooke, Doddridge, Hancock, southern Hardy, Harrison, Jackson, northern Kanawha, Lewis, Marion, Mineral, Taylor, Tyler and Wirt.
  • Counties with four-doe limits that would drop to one-doe limits: Gilmer, Morgan, Pleasants, Putnam, Ritchie and Wetzel.
  • Counties with two-doe limits that would drop to one-doe limits: Calhoun, Monroe and Roane.
  • Counties with two-doe limits that would drop to one-doe limits via lottery-drawn permits: Barbour and Cabell.
  • Counties with one-doe limits that would drop to one-doe limits via lottery-drawn permits: Braxton, Grant and southern Greenbrier.
  • Counties with one-doe limits via lottery-drawn permits that would drop to a closed antlerless season: northern Clay, Lincoln, eastern Mercer and Summers.
In sixteen counties or parts of counties open to antlerless-deer hunting, the 2011 regulations would remain the same as in 2010:
  • Counties that would retain four-doe limits: Berkeley, Hampshire, northern Hardy, Marshall, Mason, Monongalia, Ohio and Wood.
  • Counties that would retain two-doe limits: None.
  • Counties that would retain one-doe limits: Pendleton (private lands), Preston, Upshur and northern Wayne.
  • Counties that would retain one-doe limits via limited permits: Pocahontas (private lands), Randolph (private lands) and Tucker.
The rest of the state’s counties — or parts of counties — were closed to antlerless-deer hunting in 2010, and they would remain closed under the proposed 2011 regulations: Boone, southern Clay, Fayette, northern Greenbrier, southeastern Kanawha, Logan, McDowell, western Mercer, Mingo, Nicholas, Pendleton (public lands), Pocahontas (public lands), Raleigh, Randolph (public lands), southern Wayne, Webster and Wyoming.

DNR identifies another reason for poor deer kill

Fewer hunters, fewer bucks killed

One of the more intriguing pieces on today’s Sunday Gazette-Mail Woods & Waters page is this one, which indicates that at least part of West Virginia’s sharp deer-harvest decline last fall can be traced to hunters’ unwillingness to buy licenses during the winter of 2010:

A Division of Natural Resources number-cruncher has identified yet another factor that contributed to last year’s 31 percent deer harvest decline.
Steve Brown, a DNR senior planner, believes at least part of the drop-off occurred because 12,000 fewer hunters ventured afield. Brown based his hypothesis on hunting-license sales, which plunged sharply in January, February and March of 2010 and never recovered.
“We can safely say that several thousand deer didn’t get killed because 12,000 potential hunters didn’t buy licenses and therefore didn’t go deer hunting,” Brown said. “Certainly there were other factors involved; the number of deer was down because of winterkill and other factors, and deer were harder to find because an unusually large acorn crop had them widely scattered and kept them away from hunters’ [corn feeders and bait sites].”
Biologists the outcome of any deer-hunting season hinges on three principal parameters: The number of deer available; the number of hunters; and natural conditions such as food abundance and weather.
“Think of those factors as the three legs of a three-legged stool,” Brown said. “Well, last year all three legs were pointed downward. We already knew we had fewer deer and that the deer were harder to hunt; what we didn’t realize until we crunched the numbers was that the number of hunters was down significantly. We got hit with a ‘perfect storm.'”
Brown said it appears that hunters who ordinarily purchase combined hunting-and-fishing “sportsman” licenses during the months of January, February and March simply didn’t bother in 2010.
“Because of the harsh weather, people couldn’t get out trout-fish, or to hunt squirrels or ducks or rabbits or grouse,” he explained. “By March, sales of sportsman licenses were down 3,700 year-over-year from 2009. We had similar declines in base hunting and fishing licenses.”
Another possible factor in the license-buying decline was last year’s $1 license-fee increase for West Virginia residents and 8 percent increase for non-residents.
“We’ve seen reductions in license purchases after other fee increases, but those increases were much larger than the one last year,” Brown said. “For instance, in 2003 we had a significant fee increase. The number of license holders dropped 11 percent, from 230,000 to 205,000.”
The deer harvest during that same period fell 18 percent.
“There’s a phenomenon here,” Brown said. “We’re trying to get our arms around it. The take-home message is that things affect license sales and deer harvests in ways you can’t predict, explain or replicate.”

W.Va.’s fall turkey harvest declines again

Photo courtesy National Wild Turkey Federation

The saga of West Virginia’s ever-shrinking fall turkey harvest continues.  Here’s the Division of Natural Resources’ news release that announces the bad news:

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Preliminary figures for the 2010 fall turkey hunting season show a harvest of 1,126 turkeys, according to Paul Johansen, Assistant Chief in Charge of Game Management for the Wildlife Resources Section of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. The 2010 harvest was seven percent lower than the 1,208 birds checked in during the 2009 fall season.
“Fall wild turkey harvests are highly influenced by annual reproduction and hard mast conditions,” stated Johansen.  “The record acorn crop of 2010 had birds widely dispersed, many in remote, hard-to-access places which negatively affected the harvest in all of the traditional counties.  Although there were 15 additional counties open to fall hunting in 2010, the harvest was still below the 2009 tally. Biologists had hoped that the additional open counties would slightly increase the harvest; however, the abundant mast conditions prohibited hunters from achieving the 2009 harvest.”
Top counties for 2010 were Greenbrier, with a take of 92; Preston (80), Monroe (59), Randolph (58), and Pocahontas (47).  The traditional fall hunt counties, including Preston County, the Eastern Panhandle, and Mountain regions of the state, accounted for 57 percent of the total fall kill.  The kill was down 20 percent in these counties.  There were 231 turkeys (21 percent) checked in on the opening Saturday of 2010 (19 percent in 2009).  The opening week tallied 44 percent of the total harvest, the same as in 2009.

DNR to survey W.Va.’s hunters; UPDATED

West Virginia wildlife officials are trying to gauge the pulse of the state’s hunting public.

To that end, they’ve commissioned a scientific telephone survey of hunters. Here’s the Division of Natural Resources news release announcing the survey:

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has contracted Responsive Management to conduct a major hunter survey, according to Curtis I. Taylor, Chief of the DNR Wildlife Resources Section. Responsive Management will use a random telephone survey in February and March to conduct the study.
“It is essential to have an accurate estimate of hunters by season type and county to make effective management recommendations,” said Taylor.  “Responsive Management is a national leader in wildlife and conservation surveys and we have contracted their expertise to play an integral role in determining hunting participation across West Virginia.  In addition to hunting participation, we will be gathering additional sociological information pertaining to West Virginia residents’ opinions on the deer population in their counties.”
West Virginia residents that are randomly selected are encouraged to participate in the survey even if they do not hunt. “We are charged with managing wildlife for all West Virginians and we value their opinions. Therefore, even if you do not hunt, we would like your opinion in our survey.”
Results from the Responsive Management survey should be completed by late July.

DNR officials made a good choice in getting Responsive Management to do the survey. The fellow who runs that outfit, Mark Damian Duda, is a highly respected pollster, particularly in the area of hunting- and fishing-related surveys. Duda is also a West Virginia University graduate, and has strong ties to the Mountain State.

I do wonder, however, how accurate any county-specific data might be. If the survey reaches 1,100 respondents, and if all counties are equally represented in the survey, each county would have only 20 respondents. That’s a pretty small sample size, especially if DNR officials use the data to justify sweeping regulation changes of some sort.

UPDATE: A DNR representative called and said the sample size would be 5,500 completed hunter questionnaires. The Responsive Management pollsters would likely have to call 80,000 to 90,000 people to get that many completed questionnaires. That would equate to 100 respondents per county, which would be a much more dependable sample.

It will be interesting to see what the survey produces, and how DNR officials incorporate it into their management plans.

New W.Va. fishing regs now in effect

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the state Natural Resources Commission has made several changes in West Virginia’s fishing regulations for 2011. Here’s the Division of Natural Resources’ news release about the changes:

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Four new fishing regulations have been established for 2011, according to Frank Jezioro, Director of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.  “These regulations were proposed to the Natural Resources Commission and presented to the public during 12 statewide meetings in 2010. The regulations are intended to enhance fishing opportunities and protect important sport fish populations,” said Jezioro.
The new regulations include:
  • Shavers Fork Stuart Recreation Area Trout Catch-and-Release –  A new catch-and-release area for trout took effect January 1, 2011.  The new area is approximately a 1-mile section of Shavers Fork River encompassing much of the Stuart Park Recreation Area, just east of Elkins.  “The area is a popular family destination and is a great addition to the existing catch-and-release areas.  We expect it to be popular with trout anglers who like to practice catch-and-release,” noted Director Jezioro. Shavers Fork is a popular trout fishery and attracts many anglers and tourists.  The new catch-and-release area can be accessed by foot from county Route 6 on the River Loop Trail, or by driving into the Stuart Recreation Area to the river. A locked gate is located at the road entrance, and a U.S. Forest Service day-use fee is charged from mid-April through September.
  • New River Walleye –  A new regulation on walleye in the New River provides a two-fold approach to walleye management.  First, a 20-inch to 30-inch slot regulation with a two walleye limit, one of which may be over 30 inches, is in effect on the New River from the Hawks Nest Dam extending upstream to the West Virginia/Virginia state line.  Second, within this section is a catch-and-release regulation for all walleye from the Meadow Creek public access site extending upstream five miles to the base of Sandstone Falls.  “These regulations are intended to protect walleye during our efforts to restore the fishery in the New River,” said Jezioro.
  • Hybrid Striped Bass, Striped Bass and White Bass –  There is a statewide daily limit of 30 fish in aggregate with no more than four fish greater than 15 inches in length, except in the designated special regulation waters: East Lynn, Mt. Storm and Rollins lakes.  “This regulation is intended to reduce confusion among anglers in the identification of these similar species and will lead to consistent regulations on the Ohio River for these popular sport fish”, noted Jezioro.
  • Mash Fork of Camp Creek –  A Children and Class Q fishing area is established on Mash Fork within Camp Creek State Park and State Forest in Mercer County.  This area is approximately 100 yards long and provides trout fishing opportunities for children under 10 years of age and physically challenged persons from March through May.
The 2011 Fishing Regulations Summary is available at all West Virginia hunting and fishing license agents, DNR District Offices, Elkins Operation Center and South Charleston Headquarters. The 2011 Fishing Regulations Summary Regulations is also available online at www.wvdnr.gov.