By Don Mallicoat –
I have been reporting on some legislation that is making its way through the General Assembly. My focus has been on some of the more visible, like H. 937 that will amend several gun laws. I thought maybe we would look at several other bills that will have an impact on hunters and anglers throughout the state. And yes, I’ll have to throw in an editorial comment here and there.
I guess the biggest one is H. 296, the Omnibus Wildlife Resources Commission Act. This bill has passed both houses and is awaiting the Governor’s signature. Some of the provisions of this bill include allowing the WRC to issue Black Bear Management stamp and allows the WRC to manage manner of taking for black bears. Also in this bill is a provision to allow the WRC to change license fees. I think I saw somewhere that a Sportsman’s License will increase to $50. Let’s face it; it’s about time. The Sportsman’s License has cost $40 since I moved here twenty years ago. This bill will also let the WRC set license fees which now requires legislative approval. The act will also increase the Over 65 Lifetime license age eligibility to 70 along with other provisions about WRC budgeting and funding.
I think we’ve mentioned this one before, Senate Bill 201, which allows hunting with suppressors/compensators. It passed the Senate and went to the House Agriculture Committee. The same provision is in the aforementioned H. 937 so I expect this will pass. Suppressors are already in use in several western states and very popular in Europe for hunting. The only drawback is the licensing process to just own one of these under federal regulation. Maybe a move among several states like this will lead to repealing the archaic federal law restricting ownership.
Neither the Senate (S. 224) nor House (H.360) bills to allow Sunday hunting on private land made crossover, which means passing one house to the other and allowing it to be brought up in the next session. That’s a shame. You already know my thoughts on this issue. All I can say is I hope they keep trying. The WRC did come out in support of the measure.
The Trophy Wildlife Sale Permit bill became Session law when signed by the Governor. This will allow the WRC to issue additional permits for bear harvest beyond the current limit of one per season. Also H. 937, Wildlife Poacher Reward Fund, passed both the House and Senate with amendments, which means it is in Conference Committee for final vote. Most of the money for this fund will come from money gathered by game law violators. Now that is justice.
The last is H.1011 Government Reorganization and Efficiency Act, which reorganizes most of the State boards and Commissions. I’ve got a problem with this one. The Governor appoints the nine District Commissioners and the House Speaker and Senate Leader each appoint five. That means at-large appointees will outnumber District representatives which isn’t any better than it is now. I would be much more comfortable with it if the at-large appointees were required to be from different regions of the state.
Do you hunt on Sandy Mush Game Lands? I know it is popular for a lot of local hunters due to its close proximity to Asheville. Well, here is your chance to let your voice be heard in how it is to be managed for the next 10 years. The WRC is hosting a public meeting to get input for its long range management plan. The meeting is July 30th, 7 – 9 pm, at the AB Tech campus in Marshall. You might want to arrive early to sign in and pick up materials.
Here is why it’s important for hunters to show up. There are other local residents who would like to minimize hunting activities on the Game Lands and increase other recreational activities like hiking and horseback riding. Let’s remember what the Commission’s mission is. And that has to do with improving habitat for wildlife throughout the state. To date they have done a fine job at Sandy Mush. I’ve hunted both dove and grouse out there and have had success with both. We do not want to lose that wildlife focus simply because we do not show up and speak for wildlife. It is our license fees that fund Sandy Mush. Let’s make hunting and wildlife habitat the first priority.