The February 2018 Highlands Voice was dominated by great articles and informative information concerning issues with the legislation introduced, at the request of Governor Justice, to allow commercial logging in West Virginia’s State Parks ending the 80-year ban on logging in State Parks. Thanks to all who provided the articles and information for the benefit of our readers.
Senate Bill 270 and House Bill 4183 were introduced in the Senate and the House in the middle of January. Immediately a diverse coalition of conservation organizations, professional foresters, state park advocates, impacted communities, sportsmen, loggers and volunteer advocates across the state united to oppose SB 270 and HB 4183 and any commercial logging in West Virginia State Parks. Save Our State Parks, or SOS Parks, coordinated through West Virginia Rivers Coalition, sprang into action, compiling research on alternative ways to fund state park capital improvements and weighing in on forest management issues providing organizations, the general public and legislators with information as to why this proposal was a bad idea.
As a result, the governor’s office and the Senate Natural Resources Committee members started receiving letters, email and telephone calls primarily opposing the legislation. Op-eds appeared in newspapers all over the state. During the process, an amended version of the bill was introduced wherein Watoga State Park was designated for a test project for commercial logging. That resulted in even more letters, email and telephone calls. It was reported that 16,866 letters were sent to legislators and the governor! Who knows how many emails and telephone calls they received. One senator shared that he had received more citizen opposition to SB270 than any other bill this session and I am sure many others can make that same claim.
Because of this monumental effort, the legislation has been as many have said “killed”. I believe the press release from Save Our State Parks making that announcement deserves reprinting here.
Critics of State Parks Logging Bill Cheer Its Demise
The broad-based opposition to SB 270 included a wide range of citizens and organizations
News that legislation to allow logging in state parks has been derailed prompted cheers from public lands proponents and the public across West Virginia. The news, first announced in a press release from Senator Mike Woelfel, brought relief to thousands of West Virginians who had voiced their concerns that logging within the state park system would do irreparable harm to the state’s Wild and Wonderful image and its most cherished public resources. The bill, SB 270, had been introduced to enable commercial logging in all state parks. It was later revised to permit commercial logging only in Watoga State Park. In both forms, the idea brought on sustained public outrage.
“The depth and diversity of support for public lands across West Virginia is inspiring and makes me proud to be a Mountaineer,” said Matt Kearns, coordinator for West Virginians for Public Lands “We hope to use this positive energy to help DNR figure out a way to make our parks more sustainable. Senate Bill 438 passed the Senate yesterday and may be one way to help.”
When the measure was announced in January, several West Virginia conservation organizations quickly rallied under the umbrella campaign, Save Our State Parks. They compiled research on alternative ways to fund parks and weighed in on forest management issues. Soon, spontaneous opposition came from all corners of the state as sportsmen wrote letters to the legislature, park supporters organized public meetings, and professional foresters voiced opposition to the bill. In the end, the public chorus was heard.
“West Virginians of all backgrounds and political views came together to take a stand for our shared love of our state and our mountains. Our public land is literally our common ground, and thousands of West Virginians spoke up loud and clear to demand that these special places remain protected,” said Chad Cordell of Kanawha Forest Coalition.
One sportsman took it upon himself to gather over 2,200 signatures opposing the bill from fellow outdoors people at an annual hunting and fishing show in Charleston. “We would like to say thank you for listening to our voices and exercising the will of ‘We the People,’” said Kevin W. Hughart, a lawyer and sportsmen who led the petition effort. ”This is the way government is supposed to work regardless of your political party.”
“With the logging issue behind us,” said Kearns, “West Virginians will turn their attention to other pressing needs, such as working with the WV Congressional delegation to shore up funding programs relating to WV national forests, parks, and wildlife refuges.”
Partners in the Save Our State Parks campaign shared the following comments:
“When a senator told me he had received more citizen opposition to this bill than any other this session, it reinforced that the preservation of our state parks is very personal for many people,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “It is part of what we take pride in as West Virginians. The message to keep logging out of our parks was loud and clear, and it won the day.”
“The folks said: Don’t log our state parks and the legislature got the message,” said Judy Rodd, director of Friends of Blackwater.
April Keating, WV Chapter of the Sierra Club, said: “West Virginia’s state parks are a microcosm of the wild that has been set aside and made accessible so that people tired of the ever faster pace of a hectic, high-tech life can experience the grandeur and healing force of undeveloped forest. Folks know that our state parks and old growth forests are rare treasures that deserve to be protected. In a world that is increasingly industrialized, these wild places provide the antidote, and that is something that money can’t buy.”
Larry Thomas, president of WV Highlands Conservancy, said, “Thanks to the numerous organizations and individuals who made their voices heard through email, telephone calls and social media, to defeat the preposterous idea that to keep the forests healthy in our West Virginia State Parks we must cut down trees.”
“The ill-conceived SB 270 accomplished one thing, which was to demonstrate how many West Virginians appreciate and feel a deep personal connection to our state parks and their beautiful, mature forests, as these citizens combined their voices into a groundswell of passionate opposition to this proposal to allow commercial logging in our parks. We’re pleased that state legislators listened and then responded to the overwhelming public preference for maintaining existing protections on our state park forests,” Jim Waggy, Kanawha Forest Coalition.
Senate Bill 438 in its current form provides for The Economic Development Authority to issue revenue bonds to be used to pay for all or a portion of certified capital improvement projects in any of the state parks. Starting in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2018, and each fiscal year thereafter funds from the lottery commission for the state parks are to be used in part for the retirement of the bonds. This was just one of the suggestions submitted for alternate ways to pay for the needed capital improvements to our state parks.
Soon after the announcement of the governor’s proposal, I received a telephone call from a concern individual who very strongly opposes logging in our state parks. After a long discussion of his reasons for his objections, he told me that I needed to travel to Kumbrabow State Forest and observe the logging activity currently taking place on that state forest. I traveled to Kumbrabow and could not believe what I found. It appeared that a tornado had touched down in that section of the forest. I took numerous photos of what I judged to be violations of best management practices for logging. I plan to visit again in a few months to see if those conditions still exist. I believe what the logger was telling me what I found could happen to our state parks if the proposed legislation had passed.