CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia wildlife officials call it "the most important meeting we have all year."
Late this month, Division of Natural Resources biologists will hole up in an Elkins meeting room for two days and decide what this year's deer- and bear-hunting seasons will look like.
If the bag limit changes on antlerless deer, chances are the idea was born after district wildlife biologists and wildlife section administrators spent two days poring over reams of harvest data - and debating the merits and demerits of the change.
"It can get pretty intense," said Paul Johansen, the DNR's assistant wildlife chief.
"Dialogue is very open, and discussion flows very freely. Oftentimes there are differences of opinion, and those get shared freely, too. At the end of the day, though, we reach consensus on the regulations we plan to recommend to the [Natural Resources] Commission."
Johansen said last year's meeting was "a classic example" of how the agency's biologists are able to reach consensus after considerable debate.
"Last year, we finished the retooling of our deer operational plan," he said. "The retooling generated quite a number of changes to our regulation package, and as you might guess the changes were heavily discussed."
Fortunately for the biologists, personal opinions influence only a small portion of the decision-making process. Johansen said harvest data are the principal driving force.
"Right now, we have a crew of data entry clerks furiously keying in all the information from every game-checking tag generated during last fall's hunting seasons," he explained.