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DWR adds new access permit

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), previously known as the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, is adding a new access permit for those using access points, like boat ramps, on its land who have not already paid into the department’s system.

An acknowledgement that more people are now using DWR land and boat ramps than simply hunters and anglers, the new permit is $4 a day and $23 a year. The new fees will go into effect Jan. 1.

DWR Public Information Officer Paige Pearson explained the permit will pertain to Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) and any department-owned access points.

Brian Vincent

“So basically at the end of your street, if there is a boat ramp managed and owned by us, you’re going to have to have the access permit to be able to launch your kayak or canoe there, unless you have a hunting and fishing license, a Restore the Wild membership, a current access permit or boat registration,” she said.

The DWR website listed one department-owned boating access site in Charlotte County where the new access fee would be charged if the user did not already have a relevant license, membership, permit or registration, but that access site — Clarkton Bridge Boat Landing — has been permanently closed to public access.

A notice accompanying the DWR listing that acknowledged this closing suggested alternate access points: “Boaters are encouraged to use the Watkins Bridge Boat Landing on Route 746 north of Clover or the DWR Boat Landing located off U.S. 501 at Brookneal.”

Brian Vincent, who serves on the DWR board, gave some examples of people who will and will not need to pay this new fee.

“If you’re already a kayak fisherman, who fishes out of their kayak, then you already have a fishing license, and you’re fine,” he said. “You don’t have to do anything. If you’re already a hunter, and you have a hunting license, you don’t have to pay anything. If you already have a boat registration, you’ve already registered a boat, you’re fine.”

He also highlighted the Restore the Wild membership as something that would exempt people from having to pay the new fee. The lowest level of membership in this campaign is $25 a year. This gives the member a quarterly newsletter, a sticker and access to DWR land, with the money going directly toward wildlife habitat restoration.

“So, it’s just people who are utilizing those protected lands and have not kind of paid into the system in any way (who will need the new access permit),” he added.

Pearson explained the logic behind the added permit.

“People who are kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, anything like that, they’re utilizing our resources and honestly not paying into it, and everyone else pays into it to use them, and we’re just trying to track people,” she said. “We’re trying to get to know a whole new demographic, and I know that sounds kind of crazy because we’re charging them, but once we charge them, we can figure out who is going to them and, at the end of the day, what they need and what they’re using, what they’re not using.”

Vincent noted how the permit is, in a way, connected to the department’s name change from Game and Inland Fisheries to Wildlife Resources.

“While the agency, writ large, is designed around conserving and protecting public land, (and it) traditionally has been a very hunting and fishing-specific agency, the name change and some of these other things have all been in recognition of the fact that those lands are now being used by much more diverse users,” he said.

He pointed out that DWR is not a Virginia tax-funded agency.

“It’s an agency that’s primarily funded by licensures and registrations,” he said. “So your hunters and your anglers have been the ones carrying that.”

The new permit creates a more equitable pay structure where everyone who is using DWR land is paying to use it.

Vincent also said revenue from hunting licenses is dropping, but this new revenue stream and a much larger user base will help compensate for that.