"The timing of the meeting allows just enough time for all those data to be entered and verified. Once we have solid data to work from, we have the information we need to make sound, science-based management decisions."
Science isn't the sole determining factor, though. With each management decision, wildlife officials must weigh the potential biological impact against the hunting public's willingness to go along with whatever changes the decision creates.
"We always have to make sure to come up with regulatory packages that are acceptable to the public we serve - and to the [Natural Resources Commission members] who must choose whether to approve what we've proposed," Johansen said.
That's one reason the biologists' meeting is held in late January. The NRC traditionally holds its midwinter meeting in February or early March, and the biologists traditionally propose the DNR's regulatory package at the midwinter meeting.
"Just after we make our proposals to the commission, we hold a series of public 'sportsmen's meetings' throughout the state," Johansen said. "The meetings give us a chance to bounce our proposals off the sporting public and to see how much support there is for them. The commissioners take that support into account when they vote on the proposals, usually sometime in early May."
Johansen said the biologists take their late-January meeting "very seriously" because they realize its importance to the state's hunting community.
"There's a lot of data to analyze in a short period of time," he said. "It's no exaggeration to say it's our most important meeting of the year."
Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmc...@wvgazette.com.