By John McFerrin
Once again the Board members (and a couple of their cats) climbed into their little Zoom boxes for the quarterly Board meeting. We are thinking that this may be the last Zoom Board meeting for a while and that it may be safe to meet in person at the next one, scheduled for July.
We are still up in the air about a Fall Review. It may be that the pandemic will be mostly over by then but we can’t be sure. We are going to wait a while longer before deciding.
We had the usual report on our finances, getting and spending. It was pretty much as it usually is. We are taking in enough money to meet our bills. Administrative Assistant Dave Saville reported that our revenue from members, through dues and the annual fund appeal, is showing an upward trend.
Much of the meeting was taken up with reports on actions we are involved in. Frank Young reported that there were successes in the Legislature. The bill to authorize power purchase agreements (making it easier to install rooftop solar energy systems) passed; the bill which would have exempted a large number of oil and gas storage tanks from most regulation did not pass. What he said and more is contained in his story on page 15 of this issue.
Kent Karriker reported on projects that we are involved in reviewing, commenting on, etc., particularly the Gauley Healthy Forest Restoration. The Public Lands Committee has been tussling with the Forest Service over the release of information. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request the Forest Service released some of the relevant information. From that information, the Committee has concluded that the project should not be categorically excluded from the NEPA process, as the Forest Service has sought to do. (A “categorical exclusion” from the NEPA process means that the project would not be subject to the same kind of public participation found in most projects. It is only supposed to be available in limited circumstances).
All the controversy surrounding this project has slowed things down so that there is little chance of a decision until later this year.
He also talked about problems at Dolly Sods. There are problems with overuse and other issues. We are going to partner with the Forest Service to address the problems. We will shortly enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Forest Service, including a cost sharing agreement in which we agree to pay $1500. This will pay to support sign in stations at trailheads. To acknowledge our support and participation, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy logo will be on the sign in stations. This will help collect data on trail use. We will also recruit volunteers to do education on leave no trace practices. West Virginia Highlands Conservancy member David Johnston will coordinate the effort. See the story on page 5.
Kent also reported that we continue to participate in the Conservation Hub sponsored by the Appalachian Blue Ridge Alliance, particularly the Monongahela National Forest mapping project. Later in the meeting Rick Webb displayed a map showing the projects that the Conservation Hub is working on.
Kent and Larry have also been participating in West Virginians for Public Lands. Kent reported that the West Virginia Rivers Coalition has begun gathering information on how the public would like to see the Monongahela National Forest managed. There is also some interest in reviving the effort to create a Birthplace of Rivers National Monument. There was considerable activity around this several years ago but the effort became dormant when it appeared that the political climate would not welcome such an effort.
Larry reported on the plethora of bills in the recently completed legislative session designed to promote the All Terrain Vehicle industry, particularly on public lands. The only things that actually passed were resolutions. One was a study resolution, directing the Legislature to study the issue during interim sessions between now and the time the Legislature meets again. Another was a resolution supporting construction of an ATV trail parallel to the Appalachian Trail. Resolutions are not statutes and do not appropriate money or bind anyone to do anything. Often they are storm clouds on the horizon. A study resolution is an indication that an idea has some support and can be a portent of legislation next year.
In light of our long time opposition to All Terrain Vehicles on public lands, Larry suggests that we begin gathering information and preparing materials for a probable controversy.
We also considered an idea, presented by one of our members, that we support an effort to solicit money for the support of public lands by leaving donation envelopes at trail heads, equipment stores, or any place where users might gather. The envelopes would include a suggestion that the users send money to support the public lands.
There was extensive discussion with the following points made. First, we don’t know if it is even legal for a private group to solicit money on public lands. Second, it would be difficult to give money directly to the Forest Service. It is organized to operate on taxpayer money and does not have a well established mechanism for accepting donations. This difficulty is most commonly avoided by donating to various friends groups such as Friends of the 500th (supports Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge) which are set up to take donations. The Board took no action.
Larry noted that the renewable energy committee has been inactive of late but he wants it to be more active, including getting new members. Anyone who wishes to join would be welcome.
The climate change committee had prepared a response to the climate related portions of infrastructure proposal prepared by the Biden administration. In general, the committee recommends that we support the proposal although there are some concerns. The proposal could, for example, provide more support for distributed energy. Committee chair Perry Bryant’s summary of our response to the infrastructure report is on page 12 of this issue of the Voice.
Larry reported on the search for a Program Director. The announced deadline for applications has recently passed; we have received several applications. The committee will be setting up interviews.