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Preserving the great outdoors

Last weekend, dozens of West Virginia conservation groups and agency officials gathered to talk about the future of hunting, fishing and wildlife — not just here in the Mountain State, but across the country.

Though it seems like the numbers should be much higher, officials from the Division of Natural Resources reported to the group that only 12 percent of West Virginians hunt and only 4 percent fish. Because taxes and fees from hunting and fishing licenses and equipment make up so much of the funding for the DNR, decreases in participation mean decreases in funding for conservation and protection efforts.

I was not present for the meeting at which these matters were discussed, so my apologies in advance if I am tossing out ideas that were discussed at the time. But as someone who very much loves the outdoors — hiking, camping and even occasionally kayaking, I couldn’t help but notice that it seemed as though those outdoor pursuits were left out of the conversation.

I realize the uproar I may cause in wondering this — but how much thought has the DNR given to finding revenue streams involving THOSE outdoors-lovers? I’ve looked through the fee schedule for hunting licenses. I would pay to enter and a little more to camp in our state parks.

I would also be willing to pay a small excise tax on hiking, kayaking (or canoeing) and camping equipment, as is now applied to hunting and fishing equipment. I wonder if those who apply for hunting and fishing licenses might be willing to pay a small increase to make up for the reduction in the number of licenses purchased.

I am fortunate, however, to be in a position to make such statements. Not everyone who escapes on weekends by taking a walk in the woods is able to volunteer extra money to do so. Perhaps fees could be assessed on a sliding scale — and permits could be free for those below a certain income level.

In fact, what if state income tax processing included a measure for those whose income level was low enough that it warranted sending that individual or household a card that would get them into state parks for free? Meanwhile, those of us with more disposable income would still be assessed a fee to enter a park.

Here are some other thoughts:

A Parks VIP program that charges a fee for access to some events at the state parks — or access to some back country camping excursions and other guided activities.

Develop PBS-style sponsorship drives for the parks and trails — offering wares made by West Virginia artisans as thank-yous for pledges.

Give wildlife and nature photographers the change to purchase permits for use on specific photo tours and other events.

Jump on the 5K/10K/fun run/relay endurance challenge bandwagon.

Give volunteer groups the opportunity to gather sponsors/donations for trail or facility maintenance projects.

Talk to fundraising experts from the nonprofit scene. They know how to squeeze blood out of a turnip for a good cause.

My point is, outdoor lovers are not all hunters and fishermen. And a lot of us are just as willing and able to pay a little to enjoy this incredible state we call home as those who now buy licenses to enjoy their own outdoor activities. Plenty of non-residents would likely do so as well.

None of these options should exclude those who do NOT have the financial means to pay from enjoying our state parks and other facilities.

That makes this a thorny problem to sort out, but we’ve got some smart folks working at the DNR.

They will find a way.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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