WV Sunday hunting issue to appear on Tuesday ballot

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Sunday hunting backers, foes work to rally voters

Jacob Messer <jacobmesser@dailymail.com>

Charleston Daily Mail

May 09, 2002
 
State groups supporting and opposing Sunday hunting are busy getting their messages to their members this week, the final one before primary elections Tuesday.

Thirty-five counties have Sunday hunting referendums on their ballots. Twenty others, including Kanawha and Putnam, do not.

Members of the West Virginia Bearhunters Association, West Virginia Bowhunters Association, West Virginia Sporting Dog Association and West Virginia Wildlife Federation have been and will be receiving newsletters, phone calls, Internet messages and e-mails encouraging them to vote for Sunday hunting.

"If sportsmen go to the polls and support Sunday hunting, we can beat this," said Arthur Mullins, president of the West Virginia Wildlife Federation. "But it's going to take their votes to do it."

Members of the West Virginia Farm Bureau will be pushed to vote against the controversial practice when they read their monthly tabloid this week.

"We will have something in our publication urging voters to vote," said Shelly Courtney, director of public relations for the West Virginia Farm Bureau.

Sunday hunting, which state law currently allows on private lands but requires hunters to obtain written permission from landowners before setting foot on their property, has been a controversial issue since its inception.

Passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor last year in the final days of the regular session, the bill initially was meant to allow voters to determine the legality of the practice upfront through county elections.

But House Finance Chairman Harold Michael, D-Hardy, authored a vaguely worded amendment to the bill that made the practice legal until counties hold elections and voters reject it. The original bill did the opposite: It gave county commissioners the option to put Sunday hunting on a ballot to vote on its legality.

If voters would have chosen to make the practice legal in their counties, county commissioners would have been forced to wait two years and receive a petition signed by 5 percent of the electorate to have another referendum to overturn the previous results.

The Farm Bureau wanted the state Supreme Court to force DNR Director Ed Hamrick to enforce the law as lawmakers originally intended, or to declare the law invalid.

The bureau contends a last-minute wording change created confusion over the bill, and legislators intended to have counties vote to implement Sunday hunting.

Without the financial resources for mass mailings, West Virginia Bearhunters Association officials have relied on a word-of-mouth campaign.

"We talked about it at great length in March at our spring meeting," said Don Radcliff, president of the West Virginia Bearhunters Association. "We're tired of the West Virginia Farm Bureau and the Legislature. We're tired of them trying to cut back our time in the woods."

The more than 450 West Virginia Bearhunters Association members also have spread their message on the Internet via the West Virginia Sporting Dog Association's message boards at http://www.wvsportingdog.com, Radcliff said.

"Everybody has been talking about it a lot on there," he said.

West Virginia Bowhunters Association officials mailed their quarterly publication Wednesday to the more than 2,000 members of their group and the more than 7,000 members of their affiliate groups. Some of its articles will stress the importance of supporting Sunday hunting.

"This is more than a vote for Sunday hunting," said Larry Lawson, legislative representative for the West Virginia Bowhunters Association.

"This could turn out to be a total wildlife management nightmare if we don't get out and support Sunday hunting. Otherwise, we might get a hodgepodge around the state. We might get one county that allows Sunday hunting surrounded by a few counties that don't or vice versa."

West Virginia Wildlife Federation officials did not rely solely on their bimonthly newsletters. They also designed and ordered bumper stickers to send to the more than 5,000 members of their group and the more than 5,000 members of their affiliate groups. The blaze orange bumper stickers with black letters read "Vote Yes For Sunday Hunting."

"We fought for years and years to get Sunday hunting," Mullins said. "Now we have to fight to keep it."

Mullins, like his friends and colleagues Lawson and Radcliff, is not pleased with the efforts of the West Virginia Farm Bureau.

"They want to put it on the ballot in every county," Mullins said. "They've got all these reasons why, but none of them make any sense. It's not about Sunday hunting. They're an anti-hunting group. Period. It's ridiculous."

"It's crazy," Radcliff added. "On one hand, the West Virginia Farm Bureau is hollering that we need to kill more deer. On the other hand, they are hollering that they don't want us hunting any more than we already do. It's just crazy."

West Virginia Farm Bureau officials say they have not been as active as Mullins, Lawson and Radcliff claim, Courtney said.

"We, as far as the state office goes, haven't done much," she said. "We have left it up to our county chapters. They have done most of the work. We have assisted them, but that's about it."

The West Virginia Farm Bureau has local chapters in 49 of 55 counties. The ones without are Boone, Cabell, Logan, Mingo, McDowell and Wyoming. Some county chapter leaders have sent letters to and bought advertisements in newspapers. Others have visited ministerial associations to persuade their members to vote against Sunday hunting.

West Virginia Farm Bureau officials did petition the state Supreme Court to review the law, Courtney said, but the justices refused to do so.

"That's about the only thing we have done on a state level," she said.

Writer Jacob Messer can be reached at 348-7939.
 

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35 counties reject hunting on Sundays

Jacob Messer <jacobmesser@dailymail.com>

Charleston Daily Mail

May 15, 2002
 
State groups supporting and opposing Sunday hunting expected to win some and lose some.

It turns out, the former lost all and the latter won all Tuesday during primary elections.

Residents in 35 counties voted on the controversial issue, with a majority of voters rejecting referendums to authorize Sunday hunting in each of the counties.

Barbour, Berkeley, Braxton, Calhoun, Doddridge, Fayette, Gilmer, Grant, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Harrison, Jackson, Lewis, Marion, Mason, Mercer, Mineral, Monongalia, Monroe, Morgan, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pleasants, Pocahontas, Preston, Raleigh, Randolph, Ritchie, Roane, Summers, Taylor, Tucker, Tyler, Upshur and Wood counties all voted against Sunday hunting.

The largest loss was in Monroe County, where Sunday hunting was defeated by a margin of 81 percent (2,474 votes) to 19 percent (577 votes). The smallest setback was in Wood County, where it was rejected by a margin of 57 percent (7,639 votes) to 43 percent (5,631 votes).

"The rural values of West Virginia are shining through," West Virginia Farm Bureau President Charles Wilfong said. "People want to go to their churches and walk along their hills on Sundays without worrying about hunters or listening to gunshots."

Hunting advocates said they were "surprised," "disappointed" and "frustrated" when a reporter told them the unofficial results. They largely blamed voter apathy on the parts of their fellow sportsmen.

"We didn't do too good, did we?" West Virginia Wildlife Federation President Arthur Mullins said this morning. "Obviously, we didn't get to polls like we should have. It's a hard pill to swallow."

Added Larry Lawson, legislative representative for the West Virginia Bowhunters Association: "It's a bummer. Maybe this will be a wake-up call for hunters."

State law allows Sunday hunting on private lands but requires hunters to obtain written permission from landowners before setting foot on their property.

Limiting hunting to Monday through Saturday hurts working men and women who cannot participate on those days, hunting advocates contend. West Virginians should have at least one day a week to enjoy the woods and fields without worrying about hunters, their opponents counter.

Passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor last year in the final days of the regular session, the Sunday hunting bill initially was meant to allow voters to determine the legality of the practice upfront through county elections.

But West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Director Ed Hamrick interpreted a last-minute, poorly worded amendment authored by Delegate Harold Michael, D- Hardy, to mean the bill made the practice legal until counties held elections and voters rejected it.

West Virginia Farm Bureau officials wanted the law to be declared invalid, asking the West Virginia Supreme Court to review the law. The justices refused to do so, however, voting 4-1 in April to refuse the case.

"I hope this sends a clear message about Sunday hunting and the underhanded way it was implemented," Wilfong said. "I hope Sunday hunting has been put to rest for a while."

It has. In the counties that voted on the issue Tuesday, Sunday hunting referendums now cannot appear on ballots again for two years. If Sunday hunting had been approved, it could not have appeared on ballots again for five years.

Kanawha and Putnam counties did not have Sunday hunting referendums on their ballots, joining Boone, Brooke, Cabell, Clay, Hancock, Hardy, Jefferson, Lincoln, Logan, Marshall, McDowell, Mingo, Ohio, Wayne, Webster, Wetzel, Wirt and Wyoming counties.

Sunday hunting still is allowed in those 20 counties.

Most of West Virginia's hunting seasons occur between October and December, although there is a two-week spring turkey season in April. Most of the fall seasons start in October and run through December. Some start in the fall and do not end until January or February.

"We have to protect the ones we have left," Lawson said. "You better believe the West Virginia Farm Bureau is going to go after them now that this has happened."

Officials in Wirt County have said they will put the referendum on their general election ballot in November. Officials in other counties may do the same, but none have indicated they will.

Lawson and his colleagues are left to wonder what went wrong and what they can do to prevent it from happening again.

"There are many questions we don't have answers to," he said. "How many people who voted against it realized we already had it? How many people who voted against it actually hunt? How many people who voted against it actually own land? How many people who voted against it looked at it as a black-and-white, yes-or-no issue and didn't think about it or understand it?

"With this referendum, we were handicapped right from the start."

Writer Jacob Messer can be reached at 348-7939.
 


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