Profiting from wild West Virginia

A column by Mike Myer, executive editor of The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register     

WHEELING, W.Va. — Imagine a bobcat suddenly springing through the air, headed straight for your face. A Wetzel County hunter had the experience a few days ago, and he can prove it.

He’d been out in the woods when he became aware of a bobcat nearby. The hunter had something, perhaps a smart phone, capable of shooting video. He captured a few seconds of the bobcat in the brush several feet away – then it launched itself.

Video I’ve seen shows the camera jerk as the hunter tries to dodge the cat, which flew past him and was gone.

I’d have loved to have been there, and so would lots of other people.

It’s highly doubtful the bobcat intended to harm the hunter. The creatures normally are among the first to flee when they spot humans. Who knows what was in the cat’s mind?

But here’s the thing:?In all likelihood, that never would have happened when I was young. Bobcats were something you read about in books.

So were coyotes. But I’ve seen several of them in or near West Virginia. Sometimes, I can hear them howling from where I live.

And just the other day, I had to swerve the car to avoid hitting a wild turkey that flew across the road in front of me.

All this means one thing: economic development.

How many people spend lots of money going to zoos to look at animals we can find – or perhaps soon will – in the woods of West Virginia? How many of them would love to see the animals in the wild?

How much would they pay for the privilege?

The black bear population has increased in West Virginia. Deer are as thick as fleas on a mangy dog’s back in some places. Most people around here view that as a nuisance, but I’ve seen folks from other parts of the country stop – even creating small traffic jams – to get pictures of a doe with fawns.

Last week, a new chief of the wildlife section of the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources began work. He is Paul Johansen – and he loves the idea of reintroducing elk to the Mountain State. It’s a project that has been talked about for several years. Let’s hope Johansen jump-starts it.

Many people already come to West Virginia to enjoy our natural splendor. They spend lots of money here. Tourism is one of the state’s biggest businesses.

How many more could we lure by billing ourselves as the biggest natural zoo in the continental United States?

Proposals such as one to establish a new national monument, Birthplace of Rivers, in our state could help.

The plan is to preserve about 72,000 acres already in the Monongahela National Forest. The tract includes the headwaters of six rivers, the Cranberry, Cherry, Elk, Gauley, Greenbrier and Williams.

It ought to be done – if only because we ought to want our grandchildren to see something wild.

But, promoted properly, it could be an enormous boon to the economy.

And by promoted properly, I mean as part of an experience – animals, fish, forests, streams, mountains and the whole ball of wax only West Virginia can offer.

Trust me. It would be an easy “sell.”

We already have half the product – large swaths of sparsely populated land.

And the animals are in the process of doing the rest.

Myer can be reached at: [email protected].

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