(04/04/2014)
By Bob Weaver

State lawmakers in the House and Senate have asked Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to fire West Virginia's Division of Natural Resources head Frank Jezioro.

Thirteen senators and 26 delegates signed letters asking for his dismissal.

The lawmakers accuse Jezioro of "excessive lobbying of both the Legislature and outside groups on many issues that are within the purview of the Legislature, including predator control, state parks and deer farming."

Jezioro has opposed plans for the introduction of Elk back into the West Virginia forests and issues related to deer farming.

He has also administratively supported a change within the law enforcement division from Conservation Officers to Natural Resource Police.

Natural Resource Police have apparently been given administrative discretion to expand their duties and operate as general police officers.

Under WV Code they have the same arresting powers as the State Police.

While citizens are often confused, Jezioro declined to confirm a policy change regarding their expanded law enforcement duties, or to clarify the decision was an option of an individual officer.

He told the Hur Herald, "Depending upon the situation, if an officer is available to assist, he should always be prepared to respond to any emergency situation."

In Calhoun, Natural Resource Police officer Charles Stephens has pro-actively responded to general 911 police calls, disputes, reported crimes and car accidents, and at times has made as many traffic stops for moving violations as the State Police.

In the past, DNR officers responded to requests from other police agencies for mutual assistance or made arrests when they witnessed a crime being committed.

Perhaps the most disputed part of WV Code related to NRP officers is a statute allowing them to "enter private lands or waters within the state while engaged in the performance of their official duties," without a search warrant.

It is unclear, in NRP's expanded capacity of performing general police work, if that authority will be exercised.

Jezioro has also supported the Natural Resource Police to essentially "double-dip" by working part-time as law officers for other agencies as long as their duties to not interfere with their primary responsibilities.

TOMBLIN ASKED TO FIRE JEZIORO

Gov. Tomblin has yet to respond to requests to fire Jezioro.

The deer-farming bill was widely expected to pass and would have transferred control of deer farms from the DNR to the Department of Agriculture.

Proponents of the bill in both houses said Jezioro influenced sportsmen's groups to stir up opposition to the measure.

Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, said "There's a joke among deer farmers that [Jezioro] is the EPA of the DNR. The answer to every request [from deer farmers] is 'No.' [DNR officials] have a fundamental belief that deer farming is wrong. They do everything in their power to try to squash that industry," which is widely accepted in other states.

Hall said a bill to move responsibility for deer farms to Agriculture wouldn't have been necessary if the DNR had not been so hard on deer farmers.

"We shouldn't have had to do that, and we wouldn't have if the DNR director had been doing his job the right way," he added.

Jezioro was perplexed by the outcry against him, saying he was looking out for the interests of his constituents. "I have no idea where they got the lobbying charge," he said.

Hall said, "Things are going on inside the DNR that shouldn't be going on."


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