By Don Mallicoat- I attended the Wildlife Resources Commission public hearing on proposed regulation changes on January 17th at Haywood Community College. I’d guess there were about 150 people in attendance. According to WRC officials it is one of the better attended of the nine meetings. Commission staff went through a list of proposed regulation changes (handout provided to attendees) and asked people for comment. Let me give you a synopsis of those changes with attention to those affecting the mountain region.
The first series of proposals was for Inland Fisheries. The only one that drew any comment was proposal F15 to prohibit the use of archery equipment to take non-game fish on Lake James from March 1 through May 31st. The representative from the WNC Muskie Club stood in support of the proposal.
At the end of the session, when the floor was open to general comments/recommendations two participants provided additional input on fishing regulations. One asked the Commission to consider raising the minimum size limit on Wild Trout waters to 10 inches. Most of the breeding populations 8 – 10 inches long are being taken out. Another asked the WRC to do a better job of posting trout stream classifications, particularly where waters change designation, i.e. from Hatchery Supported to Delayed Harvest.
Having reviewed the proposals prior to the meeting I anticipated a couple of the hunting regulations would draw the most comments. I wasn’t disappointed. Proposal H1 will establish a third archery deer season for bucks only here in the mountains after the gun deer season is over going until January 1st. Over ten people commented with a high majority in favor of the change. One person opposed it and commented it would conflict with small game and bear hunters on public land. Another felt the archery season was sufficiently long and they should extend the gun season. Can’t argue with that.
The next proposal, H2, would redefine a youth as someone under 18 for purposes of participating in Youth hunts (deer, waterfowl, and turkey). This is consistent with US Fish & Wildlife regulation change for Youth Waterfowl Days. One participant voiced opposition because that would allow someone between 16 -18 to hunt without adult supervision as is current law. It is important to note that state licensing requirements will not change. You must be licensed at age 16 under any circumstance.
I was a bit surprised there were no comments on proposal H7, eliminating the use of paper Big Game Harvest Records. If this passes, it will be eliminated from your annual license. Hunters will simply be required to call in or post big game harvest reporting either by phone or internet.
One of the Game Land proposals, G5, restricted the use of bicycles on Butner-Falls of Neuse. Although it is not in our area, many people stood in support of the WRC doing something to restrict bike riding on Game Lands during the hunting season. This problem seems to be particularly prevalent on the Forest Service Game Lands. Executive Director Myers said the WRC is limited in its ability to restrict other activities on federal land but is working with the USFS to improve the situation.
At the conclusion of the formal presentation the floor was open to additional comments. There were several individual recommendations, but two areas drew the most support. First, many stood in support of the WRC doing more with the USFS to establish wildlife habitat. That is always good to hear. Director Myers encouraged all hunters to get involved in the current Forest Service Plan Review by attending public meetings.
Many others commented the WRC needs to reconsider a Fall turkey season in the mountains due to the burgeoning population. Can’t say that I argue with that and would love to see it. That said, I have talked with Commission staff previously and they have to set seasons and bag limits based on scientific data; harvest reports, poult counts, etc. The last time I checked those numbers were stable showing no increase in the population. That is why it is so important to report all big game harvests. It is important data in the wildlife decision making process.