By Mannix Porterfield
Hunters can expect improved access to federal forests in a bill Sen. Joe Manchin helped pass in the Senate and one that West Virginia Natural Resources Director Frank Jezioro says should block an effort to ban the sport altogether on such acreage.
In West Virginia, some 10 percent of the 1,033,784 acres of national forest is considered to suffer “inadequate access,” which amounts to 107,000 acres.
“As an avid fisher and hunter, and a proud West Virginian who believes that our state is the most beautiful in our great nation, I am a strong believer in making sure that our public lands are truly available for public use,” Manchin, D-W.Va., said Thursday.
“Our great state welcomes visitors from across this country and the entire world every day, and opening up more access only strengthens our tourism industry.”
Jezioro said the movement by Manchin, backed by 50-some sporting outfits, including the National Rifle Association, began last summer when some people in western states sought to close federal lands to hunting, fishing and recreational shooting.
“They didn’t want anybody shooting on federal lands,” the DNR director said.
“Some people said you shouldn’t be shooting In national forests because it may disturb hikers. Everything we do is safety first. But there was a backdoor approach to stop people from hunting and recreational shooting at shooting ranges. This bill should put a stop to it. This should take care of it.”
Inadequate access means that roads haven’t been maintained in some parts of national forests or hunters cannot reach specific portions because of locked gates, Jezioro said.
“Hunting will be enhanced,” Jezioro said.
“Where we have rifle ranges, there won’t be any encroachment on those ranges by any kind of federal mandate that says you can’t shoot on national forests. There has been a movement for a couple of years now trying to stop hunting on national forests.”
Some complained that the presence of hunters detracts from hikers and bird watchers, “but hunters are the only ones that have to buy stamps and licenses to use the national forests,” Jezioro said.
West Virginia reaps huge economic benefits from hunting, including an overall $230 million from the entire deer season.
Manchin’s bill, clearing on a 92-5 vote, likely will put more revenue into West Virginia’s economy, Jezioro said.
“This actually opens up some land not available to hunting,” the director said.
“Naturally, any time you can provide more land for people to hunt on, it gives them an opportunity they didn’t have. You may have some people come in here and buy licenses if they see some additional land and open that so they have access.”
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