The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 25, 2013

DNR agenda before lawmakers ‘light’ this winter

CHARLESTON — This is the agenda of the Division of Natural Resources before the West Virginia Legislature this winter. Color it light.

Unlike past sessions, the agency in charge of outdoor pursuits appears content to seek help in but two minor matters in the months ahead, says Senate Natural Resources Chairman Bill Laird, D-Fayette.

One is a means of curbing invasive species in state waterways and the other is a technical matter with regard to outlets that sell hunting and fishing licenses.

That doesn’t mean Laird’s committee will have a lean agenda, however.

“I would characterize theirs (DNR) as a comparatively light agenda,” said Laird, who was re-appointed by Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, this week as natural resources chairman.

“That certainly doesn’t mean we won’t be taking up and considering a variety of different bills that might be introduced.”

One item that could resurface is the exotic animals bill, a failed attempt to regulate the ownership of dangerous wildlife not indigenous to West Virginia.

The inspiration for the original measure was the escape of about 50 huge jungle cats in Zanesville, Ohio, two winters ago. Years before that, a lion broke free in Cass and had to be shot on the property of Snowshoe Ski Resort.

A regulatory bill (SB477) was approved by the Legislature but Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed it on technical grounds.

If such a proposal is given new life, it likely won’t be sought by the DNR, even though Assistant Wildlife Chief Paul Johansen appeared last month before the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Subcommittee, emphasizing that West Virginia lacks any legal means to control and regulate non-indigenous animals.

At the time, however, the DNR advised Laird that it wouldn’t include such a bill on its wish list before the 2013 session.

Yet, Johansen had told lawmakers, “No one knows how many of these dangerous animals are being held privately and in captivity in West Virginia, or if they’re a threat to our residents, our livestock and our wildlife.”

Laird said he learned that Tomblin’s veto message alluded to the overall costs and requirements for implementing SB477.

“I would anticipate that certainly this is a bill that could be taken up again this year,” the chairman said.

For the time being, however, the DNR apparently will focus on only two items before Laird’s committee.

One is an effort to curb invasive species such as snakeheads and Asian carp and other aquatic species that “can upset the balance in our rivers and streams within the state,” the chairman said.

“The other is a technical matter related to the point of sale supplies for those engaged in the sale of hunting and fishing licenses,” Laird said.

“Those are comparatively minor issues.”

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