December 21, 2011

Protecting our Hunting and Fishing Rights

As an avid hunter and fisherman, I will always protect our rights. I would never encourage, support, or vote for anything that would take away even one acre of land we are currently using for hunting and fishing in West Virginia. As Governor and now as your United States Senator, I have truly sought not only to preserve – but also to enhance – the resources we hold dear along with the tradition of hunting that is so important to our state and its people. 

Earlier this year, at the request of my constituents, I asked the National Park Service to look at some of our state’s natural treasures in and around Tucker County. More specifically, we were looking for a way to preserve the Blackwater Canyon for future generations to enjoy. 

Now, there are some who are worried that this National Park study could lead to an end to the long tradition of hunting and fishing in this area where we now enjoy exercising those rights. I have listened carefully to their concerns. 

But let me be clear: I would never support turning any West Virginia hunting lands into a National Park if that would restrict the rights of hunters. As a Governor who expanded hunting education in our schools, started the Governor’s One-Shot and created new opportunities for West Virginians to hunt, I would fight to my last breath against anything that would take away the hunting and fishing traditions we all hold so dear. 

With those protections in mind, a new designation could be a win-win: a win for West Virginia and the people of our state, and a win for the country. 

This country would win a venue like nothing else as a part of the National Park system. 

In West Virginia, we would win enhanced opportunities for tourism, job creation and an improved economy – while at the same time preserving all of our rights and traditions as West Virginians to continue to hunt and fish on those lands. 

The role that a National Park designation plays in tourism is hard to overstate. In 2009, National Parks in West Virginia had more than 1.8 million visits, and it’s estimated that about $60 million was spent in local communities as a result. Tourism is a growing industry in our state that is creating jobs and helping to diversify our economy, and we should work together to strengthen our tourist attractions. 

But West Virginia will only come away with a win if our quality of life and the way we use our property do not face any new impediments or interference. 

Right now, we are at the beginning of several stages: a Reconnaissance Survey. All this means is that the National Park Service is undergoing a preliminary study of the significance of the area and whether there is interest to continue. If they want to go further, they next have to ask Congress to authorize another, more detailed study. 

It only takes one Senator to block this formal study – and I can assure you, if I feel our hunting and fishing rights would be in danger, that one Senator would be me. With those ironclad protections in mind, I believe it makes sense to see if the National Park Service believes the Alleghany Highlands could qualify for a National Park designation

If the formal study goes forward, the National Park Service will provide the public with the opportunity to make their voices heard loud and clear through workshops and public meetings. If West Virginians are in favor of the idea of park designation, then the Senate and House would have to pass legislation determining which areas would be included and what activities would be allowed before the National Park Service would receive the authority to redesignate the land. Congress has the authority to authorize hunting, fishing and continued land use in any National Park, preserve or recreation area – and has done so in the past. In fact, hunting is currently allowed in 69 areas that have a National Park designation. 

The bottom line is this: My job is to make sure we look at every opportunity to enhance West Virginians’ quality of life and our way of life. You have my solemn promise that I am committed to always putting West Virginians and our great state of West Virginia first, looking at every opportunity and protecting the rights that hunters and fishermen have enjoyed for generations.