By Stephen Smoot
As the yearly battles on key legislative issues play out in the legislative chambers and the press, both House and Senate leaders proposed changes to state laws governing hunting, fishing, and trapping.
One of the first addresses the tracking of animals mortally wounded while being hunted. Bill Hamilton, chair of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, served as lead sponsor on the bill. He, along with Senator Robert Karnes, represents Pendleton County.
The bill adds “mortally wounded elk, turkey, wild boar, and bear to list of wounded animals that may be tracked and located using a leashed dog.” Additionally, Class Q permit holders or “certain physically disabled hunters” can select another state licensed hunter to accompany the dog handler to dispatch the wounded animal.
The animal will go toward the bag count of the person who fired the first shot. Trackers may not assist in dispatching the animal.
On the House of Delegates side, HB 2285 originated in the Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, but then passed to Judiciary. The bill proposes “the requirement that ópen hunting season for big game begin on a Saturday.” Although the introduction states a focus on scheduling the opening of hunting season, the body of the bill proposes 33 “additional powers, duties, and services” of the director of the state Division of Natural Resources. Many of these deal with aspects of long-range conservation planning.
Delegate Marty Gearhart of Mercer County introduced HB 2369 to address damage committed by “deer or other wildlife” to the property of “landowners or lessees.” The bill specifically names damage to “cultivated crops, fruit trees, commercial nurseries, homeowners’ trees, shrubbery, or vegetable gardens.”
Those experiencing such damage, if this bill passes, can submit a report to the “natural resources police officer or biologist of the county.” The landowner or lessee can either get a permit to dispatch the animal or animals, but can also under this legislation hire a third party to help protect their property.
Anyone engaged in hunting allowed under this bill must obey all laws governing firearm and bow use while hunting the same animal during their regular hunting seasons.
Delegate Pat McGeehan from the Northern Panhandle introduced HB 2117, which will help farmers and others concerned about property damage from coyotes more than recreational hunting or trapping. The bill would remove restrictions on hunting coyotes, including “year-round hunting of coyotes using artificial light or night vision technology and permitting hunting of coyotes at any hour.” The bill does not change these prohibitions as they apply to recreational or other hunting of game animals.
In 2013, then State Agricultural Commissioner Walt Helmick told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph that “coyotes are our biggest problem. More of them are being born than we’re removing. They’re winning the battle.”
The sheep industry, important in Pendleton County, has suffered losses in that battle. Helmick said in 2013 that “for the rebirth or growth of the sheep industry, it would be almost impossible with the amount of coyotes we now have on the loose.”
In 2018, the DNR estimated the population of coyotes in West Virginia at between 11,000 and 12,000. In 2018, National Geographic estimated that nationally, “coyote populations are likely at an all-time high.”