By Mannix Porterfield
For the Daily Telegraph
CHARLESTON — Southern West Virginians might feel as if the black bear has begun to proliferate in that region — and they’re right.
In fact, the population boom came after the animals were introduced there some years back to lower the abundant ranks elsewhere, Natural Resources Director Frank Jezioro acknowledged Tuesday.
His response came to a question posed by Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, based on talk in his region that the DNR had relocated some bears there to relieve pressure in other parts of the state.
What followed was an unanticipated upsurge in the southern population, the DNR director said.
“Nobody expected they would take off like they did,” Jezioro told the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Subcommittee at an interims meeting.
“Those old strip mines are a perfect habitat for them. They’ve found a home in southern West Virginia.”
As opposed to the northern counties, where one cub born per female bear is the norm, the birth ratio is about 2.5 to 3, he noted.
Jezioro reminded Delegate Brady Paxton, D-Putnam, that the state sponsors a wild boar hunt, but doesn’t have to cope with a feral hog issue that is prevalent in the Carolinas, Texas and Georgia.
“And some of them are having an open season like we do on coyotes year ‘round,” he said.
“So far, we don’t have that problem. It’s not to say that we won’t. They continue to spread. They’re very destructive. If you’ve seen what they can do, it looks like they go through with a backhoe and just tear the forest floor all to pieces.”
Jezioro told Moore the wild boars were introduced in his region to give hunters some variety.
“There was nothing down there to hunt, other than squirrels,” he said.
Paxton wondered how the coyotes were faring, pointing out he sees what appears to be the same one in a different location from time to time.
“Don’t send him to McDowell,” Moore quipped.
Jezioro outlined the goals and makeup of the Natural Resources Commission, an agency made up of seven unpaid members named by the governor to set game seasons and wildlife rules in West Virginia.
“We feel like we’re the complaint department,” said Jeff Bowers, a Pendleton County resident and the oldest serving member with 14 years under his belt.
“It is a very delicate balance when you’re dealing with landowners or dealing with what society wants, or out there with what the hunter wants. At the same time, we have to consider what our biologists tell us.”
When he first signed on, Bowers said votes on seasons and rules usually were 7-0, or 6-1, but recently have gone down to the wire to 4-3.
And, at times, he said, “We may have ruffled the feathers of our director because he may not have agreed with our decisions.”
“It’s not a rubber stamp group,” Jezioro said, emphasizing the commission acts independently of the DNR in reaching its conclusions.
“And that’s the way it should be.”