By Linda Cooper
Hikers, skiers, campers, RVers, photographers, bird watchers, canoeist and kayakers, plant collectors/ florists, rock climbers, horseback riders, cavers, festival goers, they are all here en masse and they love West Virginia’s outdoors and wildlife. Visit any of our state parks or other wild protected areas and you will see them. By the hundreds. And they are very welcome, for many, especially, economic reasons.
Our state parks host an estimated 7 million visitors per year;1 our national parks in West Virginia host an estimated 1.6 million visitors;2 our national forests and wilderness areas, 728,000.3 Projections are that visitorship will continue to increase (with or with COVID-19) as West Virginia is discovered by more and more close-by urbanites who can’t get enough of this “last frontier of the East.” At the same time, all our natural areas and facilities have backlogs of maintenance and other management issues.
Further, West Virginia has nearly 500 animal species–70 mammals, 85 reptiles and amphibians, 336 birds;4-5 281 fish species,6 and some 3,000 plant species.7 Of the wildlife species, 37 are hunted/game species.8 The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources is charged with caring for, protecting, and managing our state’s wildlife. The funds made available to them for this purpose come almost exclusively from fees collected from some 12% of our population and any number of those beyond our borders who purchase hunting and fishing licenses.
There is a bit of a glitch here, however. With these collected fees almost exclusively dedicated to management of just the hunted/game species, what’s happening with all the others 46 wildlife species (500-37)? What about the threatened and endangered ones? And what about the lost recreational opportunities for those who love them as much as hunters love their hunted species? Are they all doing okay? And what about their habitat, including those 3,000 plant species that provide sustenance for both hunted and unhunted species. Do they need no protection, management? How is the well-being of all these “others” seen to?
Some might view the issues raised above as having something to do with fairness. Others may see it more like pandering to a well-endowed but ever decreasing special interest group (again, 12% of West Virginians purchase hunting and fishing licenses). One may also ask, does this current system really work? Are game species being managed well? For example, with no natural predators, deer, in particular, are overrunning many parts of the state causing severe harm to ecosystems, rare plants, other wildlife species, gardens and landscapes, automobiles, and humans as victims of auto accidents. In fact, according to carinsurance.com, West Virginia leads the nation as the state where you are most likely to hit a deer.9-11 Some20,000 deer-vehicle crashes occur annually in West Virginia and have for decades. At an estimated cost of $2,423 per claim, that is $52 million a year, or nearly $30,000 each for every man, woman, and child in the state.
Interesting statistics and also a bundle of problems for recreation and wildlife managers. How do we ensure the protection of what we have? How do we make and maintain sustainable budgets? Are there no other options?
Given the opportunity, as with licenses and hunters, might not these other recreationists and wildlife enthusiasts wish to help care for these natural areas, their wildlife, and their habitat? But how can we? And why is no one asking us to do so and providing a convenient mechanism to make it possible?
Perhaps it is time to look for a way to enable equal opportunity giving. Perhaps not all but surely some of these thousands of visitors like our environment so much that, if asked, they will voluntarily contribute to keeping it wild and wonderful.
I have a suggestion: why doesn’t WVHC or some other viable, responsible state organization sponsor and coordinate the printing, distribution, and collection of specially designed envelopes in which visitors can place a voluntary contribution for the purpose of protecting our wildlife, plants, all wildlife forms, and their precious habitat. A dollar or two, five, ten, a hundred? It would pay for its own management, add up over time, and givers/users would thus be even more invested in an area and cause they cherish.
The envelopes could be made available at state agencies, stores/businesses; hunting and fishing license purchase locations; in appropriate boxes located at popular trailheads; and other places throughout the Monongahela National Forest, our Refuges, and all tourism-related venues. The envelopes could be postage-paid and returned via the U.S. Postal Service. The envelopes themselves could be small and unobtrusive, perhaps like those made available at Forest Service kiosks in which camping site fees are deposited. A message something like the following could be enclosed:
HIKER and OUTDOOR USERS VOLUNTARY FEE
Hiking, skiing, canoeing, watching birds and wildlife, caving, or spending time in other ways here,
we are SO glad to have you. We hope you are enjoying it as much as we who live here do.
We work really hard to keep it as wild/natural as possible, but it is not easy. Right now, only
hunting and fishing license fees are available for this difficult work. And that is not enough
for all that needs to be done to keep it this way.
If you love our wild areas as much as we do please chip-in. Tuck this envelop away
for now and conveniently mail it with a contribution when you return to full civilization (postage paid).
“A message and effort by the WVHC in cooperation with the West Virginia DNR Wildlife Resources Section, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and numerous state and local conservation organizations. For more information: [web address]”
Why don’t we get on with it?
1. http://wvstateparks.com/EconomicResearch2015.pdf accessed 11/16/20.
2. https://www.nps.gov/state/wv/index.htm accessed 11/16/20.
3. https://www.fs.usda.gov/sites/default/files/2019-National-Visitor-Use-Monitoring-Summary-Report.pdf accessed 12/7/20.
4. https://www.exploringnature.org/db/view/West-Virginia-Habitats-Mammals-Birds-Amphibians-Reptiles accessed 11/16/20.
5. http://www.wvdnr.gov/Publications/PDFFiles/mammals%20brochure.pdf accessed 11/16/20.
6. https://dep.wv.gov/WWE/getinvolved/sos/Pages/Fishes.aspx accessed 11/16/20.
7. http://www.city-data.com/states/West-Virginia-Flora-and-fauna.html accessed 11/16/20.
8. http://www.huntingseasonhq.com/west-virginia-hunting-seasons/ Accessed 11-16-20.
9. https://newsroom.statefarm.com/animal-collision/ accessed 1/15/21.
10. https://www.carinsurance.com/Articles/odds-of-hitting-deer.aspx accessed 1/15/21.
11. https://www.wvinsurance.gov/Portals/0/deer%20report.pdf accessed 1/15/21.
Linda Cooper is a past WVHC President. She holds both an MSW and an MBA degree. Native of Canaan Valley, she operates a B&B, Bobolink Cabin, on the family farm there. She currently lives in Anchorage, AK, and can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.