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More acreage available for public hunting this year

This fall hunters in the greater Parkersburg area are in for some very good news.

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has plans to open five new wildlife management areas, expand four existing WMA’s and add a 200-hundred acre tract of land to the North Bend State Park.

The Conservation Fund, a Virginia-based environment nonprofit group, acquired 18,778 acres of current and former Timberland and has plans to sell these tracts to the WVDNR. This new acreage is located in Calhoun, Doddridge, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Wirt and Wood counties.

The new WMA’s, all of them yet to be named, include a near 10,000-acre tract close to the Little Kanawha River in Calhoun and Wirt counties, a 3,100- acre tract in Southern Wood County, a 2,000-acre tract in Western Wirt County, a 1,100-acre tract in eastern Pleasants County and a 900- acre tract on the Ritchie-Doddridge border.

In addition to all of this, the DNR has plans to add 2,900 acres to the Frozen Camp WMA in Jackson County, 4,200 acres to the Ritchie Mines WMA in Ritchie County, 1,800 acres to the Sand Hill WMA in Wood and Ritchie Counties, and 6,400 acres to the Hughes River WMA in Wirt and Ritchie Counties.

The Conservation Fund will hold onto this acreage, but will eventually transfer it to the WVDNR in phases as money becomes available to purchase it through the Pittman-Robertson Act. This is excise tax money that is paid on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment that is dedicated toward the purchase of hunting lands across the nation. License dollars along with mitigation dollars from pipeline construction in West Virginia and donated funds are being used to seal this purchase.

The Conservation Fund has now acquired more than 63,000 acres for public hunting in our state. In 2016-2017, it secured 32 396 acres for the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan and Mingo counties. The most recent acquisitions total more than 31,000 acres.

While the DNR already has several WMA’s in the Parkersburg Area, a lot of this acreage is land leased by the state. On leased land, the DNR is limited when it comes to long-term plans for the land use. However, on this acreage they are getting from the Conservation Fund, they will have a permanent fee ownership. This will allow for the type of planning that is not possible with land leases.

These new acquired lands will feature interior woodland habitat, along with forested watersheds which will provide essential habitat for a variety of game and non-game species. The first transfer was scheduled to have taken place in the first quarter of 2019.

Paul Johansen, the DNR wildlife chief said, “Hunters in the deer-rich region are delighted at the prospect of having places where they can hunt for free.” I have to agree that private land leases are for those who can only afford it. State ownership will eliminate this barrier and will help more people enjoy a valuable natural resource.

Johansen went on to say the lands, which will be actively timbered even after the DNR takes them over will contain what wildlife biologists call, “Young forest habitat,” which is important to many wildlife species in addition to deer.

From my own point of view, this is a giant step in the right direction when it comes to public hunting in West Virginia. These new lands will be open for the public wildlife viewing and other pursuits in addition to hunting. From a recreational standpoint, the potential is almost unlimited.

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