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Wildlife Management Areas

West Virginia’s Statewide Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) Program was created to provide hunting, fishing, and related outdoor recreational opportunities throughout the Mountain State. Wildlife management activities include the establishment of wildlife habitat through tree and shrub plantings, maintenance of food plots, timber cutting, road and trail maintenance, and the use of hunting regulations to increase and control wildlife populations. These areas are managed by the Division of Natural Resources for use by the general public.

Currently 96 wildlife management areas are owned by the state or leased by the Division of Natural Resources from other owners, encompassing 1.4 million acres (eight percent of the state’s total land area) in 53 counties; the total acreage has more than tripled in the 21st century. The largest state-owned areas are the Sleepy Creek WMA in Berkeley and Morgan counties and East Lynn Lake WMA in Wayne County, each encompassing more than 22,900 acres in size.

The forerunner of the WMA program was the establishment of leased wildlife refuges on privately owned land in 1922. These state-private landowner cooperative game refuges opened the way for the propagation and protection of game animals and birds. The following year the Game and Fish Commission (now Division of Natural Resources) purchased the first state-owned forest and game refuge in Pocahontas County.

In 1936, a cooperative agreement between the state of West Virginia and the U.S. Forest Service resulted in the establishment of certain areas as ‘‘game breeding ground areas’’ within the Monongahela National Forest. These areas later became known as wildlife management areas and now total 13 in the Monongahela, George Washington, and Jefferson national forests. The largest wildlife management area within a national forest is the Cranberry WMA (158,147 acres) in Nicholas, Webster, Pocahontas, and Greenbrier counties.

Written by Jack I. Cromer