Senate bills would open state lands to off-road vehicle use

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Two bills introduced to the Legislature aim to create opportunities for motorized vehicle driving on public lands in West Virginia, specifically in wildlife management areas, state parks and state forests.

Senate Bill 565 seeks to create a “wildlife viewing” brand where people could buy the brand and drive on “…government-owned property and roads, including fire lanes, select access roads, and roads that are normally fenced off between Memorial Day and Day.” of work for the general public…”

Senate Bill 563 would allow for scattered camping in the same areas.

Markus Maynard

The two bills are supported by Senator Mark Maynard, who is an avid off-highway driver. He has previously attempted to legislate to allow access to state lands for off-road driving. His efforts are supported by organizations like the West Virginia Off Highway Vehicle Coalition. Jerry Bain, speaking on West Virginia Outdoors, welcomed the idea.

“This is land that we don’t really use in the off-season. This is country that we think we could generate a lot of revenue from and while adventure travel is increasing in the state it would be a place where people from out of state could come here and buy a stamp and know they are going to any of them could go to those areas,” Bain said.

Bain and his organizations promote adventure tourism and road riding. The bill specifically does not allow the use of UTVs or ATVs in these areas. According to Bain, driving would only be permitted in registered vehicles and restricted only to already established roads in the public land areas. The bills specifically exclude Coopers Rock State Forest and Kanawha State Forest from the allowance.

But not everyone is enthusiastic about the idea. Logan Bockrath of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers organization sees the two bills as a potential disaster for public lands, particularly land bought and paid for with hunting license dollars.

“Two major concerns, one for wildlife and fisheries habitat. There are myriad potential negative impacts on habitat and second, it could have a negative impact on our funding,” Bockrath explained in an interview on the radio show.

He pointed to the Pittman-Robertson Act, under which federal excise taxes paid on hunting and shooting equipment are distributed among states based on the number of licensed hunters and the hunting area. The money is narrowly targeted to the primary purposes of acquiring land specifically for wildlife management and wildlife management activities. Bockrath believes it would be difficult for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to allow off-road travel under the “wildlife viewing” heading.

“When it comes to wildlife viewing, my name is Tom Brady and I wake up to my supermodel wife every morning. It’s not about wildlife sightings and all you have to do is check their Facebook groups to see that,” Bockrath said.

Bain disagreed.

“I’m not sure if there’s a difference between the two. The reason you drive off-road is for wildlife viewing and nature. If we didn’t do that, we would just drive on the sidewalk. The key is being in nature, to see the wildlife, the trees, and the beauty of wild, beautiful West Virginia,” Bain said.

The bills require everyone to also purchase a hunting license before they can purchase the stamp. Bain said it would help boost license sales to drive down the extra excise dollars.

“If West Virginia gets its funding based on the number of licenses sold and the square miles, we can’t change the square miles, but we can double the number of licenses sold,” Bain said.

“The conversion of wildlife management areas into off-road destinations could easily be viewed as improper secondary use by the US Fish and Wildlife Service,” Bockrath said.

The USFWS may find that the idea of ​​”watching wildlife” falls outside the scope of the fund’s purpose and may find the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources in a diversion of funding. Such a judgment could potentially disrupt future funding and potentially require repayment.

The bills would also extend to state park and state forest properties that do not include federal funding for wildlife management but could create an equal number of conflicts between user groups.

The bills came in last week. Both are referred to the Senate Natural Resources Committee and the scattered camping legislation includes a tax endorsement and is also referred to the Senate Economic Development Committee.

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