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A Monument To Our Hunting Heritage

posted May 29, 2014, 12:01 PM by Web Editor   [ updated May 29, 2014, 12:02 PM ]

originally published in the Charleston Gazette
By Doug Humphreys
You may have heard about a proposal to preserve a section of the Monongahela National Forest in and around Cranberry Wilderness as the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument. As a hunter enjoying spring turkey season, I have an opinion on that.

Spring season makes me remember a cold April hunt in the Mon. Temperatures had dipped below freezing overnight, and the grass and leaves crunched under my boots. There were more snowflakes than redbud blossoms.

So lost was I in the frosty morning that the gobble coming up the ridgeline caught me off guard; I couldn’t figure how close the bird was. The deep valleys turned a turkey gobble into the roar of a monster. The echo boomed off canyon walls and seemed to come from all directions.
I sat against the base of a pine tree and pointed my Winchester down the middle of the ridge. After a few moments, I scratched the leaves with my hand. Silence. I scratched glass with hickory and made three soft yelps.

As old toms do, the gobbler appeared from nowhere in full strut and I realized that I’d been listening to his echoing spitting and drumming. He stepped behind a rock outcrop, allowing me to adjust my aim. When he reappeared on the other side he was only a few paces away. The shotgun recoiled and it was over with a few ceremonial flaps.

At an overlook on the walk back to the truck I gazed across the rugged landscape that is the one million acres of the national forest, and was grateful for the hunt. All hunters have memories like these, and that’s why we should get into the conversation about the Birthplace of Rivers.
The 120,000 acres are a hunter’s paradise. They are the headwaters for six notable rivers, including the Elk and Gauley, and those woods provide excellent habitat for black bear and other species.

What I like is the way the area is managed for turkey and other wildlife, and I want to make sure this management is protected. After timber is cut, small open areas are maintained for game to browse and graze, and that’s critical for quality hunting experiences. I was pleased to learn that this active management wouldn’t change under monument designation, thanks to some key changes made to the proposal. Where it is allowed today, timber harvests will continue for forest restoration and quality wildlife management by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, similar to management of other Forest Service national monuments.

The monument proposal is clear that wildlife management would not change. As a hunter, I understand the concern on this matter. Most of us see the way things are as the way they should be. What matters is that next year will be the same as last year.

It does seem that every year we hunters are a little less understood. In a world where fewer people hunt each year, we’re concerned that change won’t be in our favor. As a community of hunters we need to remember that sometimes controlling change is the way to keep things the way we like them.

Management of public lands can change at the hands of outsiders in federal government. That’s why hunters in other places have supported monument designations. They offer more permanence for their outdoor traditions. Dozens of hunting groups in other states have worked with stakeholders to create national monuments that celebrate hunting and fishing, while guaranteeing sound wildlife management by the states. Let’s follow their examples and define a monument West Virginia hunters and anglers are proud of.

Hunters are used to defining change. We voted in an excise tax on ourselves — the Pittman-Robertson Act that adds an 11 percent tax on items like firearms, bows and arrows, and generates more than $500 million a year for the explicit purpose of managing fish and game. This is the type of leadership hunters are capable of.

I believe West Virginia’s hunters should welcome a leadership position on the monument proposal, and work with the many other groups involved. We have the chance to create a historic designation, one in which the interests of hunters is enshrined. I’d rather see hunters at the table, getting what we deserve — what we’ve paid for — than miss this moment in history.

Doug Humphreys is a lifelong West Virginia sportsman who grew up hunting in the Monongahela National Forest.

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