by Brian Hyder - Tuesday, August 30, 2016
If you ever visit the “Mountain State”, you will be impressed with the rugged beauty of the landscape, its mountains, and rolling hills and vast river valleys. It is rich with natural resources, many of which drive the economy of the state. Outdoor recreation opportunities include skiing, whitewater rafting, fishing, and hiking, mountain biking and hunting. Many of these activities are critical to the economy of West Virginia. Whitewater enthusiasts from around the world come to WV to challenge the New River and the Gauley River, two of the best to be found anywhere. The New River is claimed to be the second oldest in the world, carving its path through the Appalachian Mountains which are over 300 million years old- some of the oldest on earth.
Another major resource in the state is coal. WV is second only to Wyoming as the top coal producer in the country. It is also a strong producer of natural gas and oil.
The rugged mountains of WV have also produced some rugged, independent people. Hunting, fishing and shooting are just as important to West Virginians today as they were when the state was being settled. Today, 350,000 hunters create more than 5,000 jobs which contribute over $270 million to the state’s economy annually. These jobs are particularly important to those living in rural communities of the state.
Populations of wild boar, deer, bear, wild turkey, squirrel, ruffed grouse, quail, rabbit, pheasant, raccoon, fox and bobcats are all found in the Mountain State. These wildlife resources are managed by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources under the direction of Paul Johansen, Chief of the Wildlife Resources Section. Paul and his staff oversee a statewide Wildlife Management Program which is designed to provide high quality habitat as well as public access to these resources. At the present time, 1.4 million acres are managed by the Wildlife Resources Section of the DNR.
Early this year, the DNR announced the acquisition of 32,000 acres of habitat for elk restoration in the state. Made possible by the Conservation Fund, this acquisition makes WV a partner in a multi-state effort to restore elk to the Appalachian region. This acquisition is located in Lincoln, Logan and Mingo counties. So, in the near future, elk will also be an important managed species in the state.
Another important function of WV’s Wildlife Management Areas is providing public shooting opportunities for the citizens of the state. Currently, the state manages 31 publicly available shooting ranges. This ranks them near the top in ranges per state nationally. WV has always had a goal to provide a range within 30-45 minutes of every citizen in the state and they’re close to realizing that goal. With 31 ranges now, most of their focus for the future will be on maintaining these existing ranges. Zack Brown is the agency’s Capitol Improvements Coordinator and it is his responsibility to develop and manage the ranges in the state. Zack had this to say about the importance of public ranges, “Public shooting ranges provide our hunters with the ability to sight in and practice with their firearms before going into the field to hunt. This leads to a safer, more successful hunting season. For those shooters who do not hunt, our public ranges provide a safe area to practice and become familiar with their firearms.” The shooters and hunters of WV are fortunate to have an agency with such a strong commitment to providing public ranges.
In 2009, the year the NRA began the Public Range Grant Program, WV was one of the first states to apply for funds. A grant was approved to the state to construct the Chief Logan Public Range in Logan County and this was the first range nationally to open with support from the new NRA program. Soon to be Governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, and yours truly were on hand along with scores of other supporters for the dedication and grand opening of the new range. Since this first project at Chief Logan, there have been 3 more projects supported by the NRA’s grant program: Kumbrabow State Forest, Sleepy Creek and Dents Run. Most of the ranges are at least 100 yards and have covered shooting benches. All users are urged to carry out what they bring in and always leave the range better than you found it.
The WV/NRA partnership is a perfect example of how the program is intended to work. The NRA’s grant program helps the state find the matching funds necessary to secure the Pittman-Robertson federal aid dollars to fund public ranges. Chief Paul Johansen had this to say recently about this partnership, “ We have been very fortunate to partner with the NRA on several public shooting ranges in West Virginia. The ability to utilize the Public Range Fund monies has allowed the WVDNR to provide quality, public facilities for shooters in areas with high user demand.”
So, the next time you’re passing through “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia or if you’re looking for a place to shoot in the state, check out one of the state’s 31 public ranges. And if you happen to meet one of the DNR’s employees there, thank them for providing these facilities and be sure to keep up your support of the NRA so we can continue to provide this important program to the states.
To apply for an NRA Public Range Grant visit http://range.nra.org/public-range-fund-grant-program.aspx