An Opportunity to Meet the Moment

By Marilynn Cuonzo

It was 1891 when President Benjamin Harrison created the “Forest Reserves” in response to public concern that unrestrained logging across the country had created severe deforestation that ushered in a crisis threatening its wildlife, timber and water supplies. The “Forest Reserve” lead the way to the creation of the United States Forest Service to manage the long-term conservation of resources for public benefit. 

Imagine this: In 1700 there were approximately 65 million bison in what is now called the United States. By the mid 1800’s it is estimated that there were between 30 to 60 million bison. By 1891, the population had been reduced to less than 1,000.

There’s a new crisis today—which has been recognized as climate change—and when President Joe Biden took office in 2021, he created a conservation goal the “America the Beautiful” initiative, which calls on federal agencies to take ambitious conservation action that will reverse biodiversity loss, improve access to nature and grow our natural carbon sink. Included in this mandate is a national goal to conserve 30% of US lands and waters by 2030. 

The America the Beautiful initiative is expansive and the gives the US Forest Service a rare opportunity to play an important and distinct role in tackling climate change. 

It also gives the US Forest Service the opportunity in this complicated construction of a four-lane highway to apply the America the Beautiful standards that will do the least amount of damage to the environment, wildlife, water, and recreational areas many of us enjoy and have loved for most of our lives. 

The loss of natural areas calls for urgent action. The US Forest Service has an opportunity to meet the moment and play an important and distinct role in tackling climate change when considering the impact a four-lane highway will have on such an ecologically sensitive area. 

Editor’s note: In early February, members of WVHC, as part of the Go North Corridor H Alliance, met with officials from the Monongahela National Forest to share concerns about impacts to the National Forest from Corridor H construction. I felt it was necessary to share the opening address, which was so thoughtfully delivered by Marilynn Cuonzo, with readers of the Voice.