By John McFerrin
The dicey weather in January and the appeal of meeting without having to leave our houses drew us to a Zoom meeting for the January Board meeting of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. Even though Zooming is not as much fun as meeting in person, we still got some stuff done and learned a lot.
After some preliminaries, Membership and Fulfilment Secretary Crys Bauer kicked things off with a report on how we are doing on membership. She reported that we have added more new members this year than in any recent year. Whether this is because of our increased online presence (see below), good luck, or something else is unknown but it is a fact. She also reported on the inventory of the various items that we have for sale in our online store (hats, t-shirts, bumper stickers, books, etc.).
Next came Olivia Miller, Communications Director. Although not articulated in so many words, the theme of her presentation was Welcome to the 21st Century. She reported that The Highlands Voice is still going out every month and she is getting compliments on it. What is new, and 21st century, is our online presence. We have substantially upped our game on both Facebook and Instagram, gaining more and more followers. It is possible to track which posts sparked the most interest; ours were those on Corridor H and Dolly Sods. Our Facebook posts have resulted in some new sales at our online store and additional signatures on the petition urging the northern route for Corridor H.
Program Director Cory Chase reported on what he has been up to. He, along with Olivia and Crys, have been working on ways to communicate with our members more effectively, especially using the EveryAction program that we got recently. This will make it possible to send action alerts to our members. They have sent out the first email to our members and are working to clean up our list, eliminate invalid addresses. He is also helping plan the Fall Review, scheduled for October at Canaan Valley. The theme is water with topics such as acid mine drainage, PFAS, water rights, storage tanks, Corridor H citizen science, remediation, etc.
Cory attended Tucker County Day/Tourism Day at the WV Legislature where he set up and manned a WV Highlands Conservancy table.
We reviewed the financial report for 2022 and a budget for 2023. Both were unremarkable. The budget for 2023 is a deficit budget. In the short to medium term, we can operate on a deficit budget because we have some savings. The deficit for 2023 will be smaller because we applied for and received a grant of $4,000 to support the Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards program. While receiving grants is not unprecedented, supporting ourselves on grants represents a shift for us. For most of our history we have supported ourselves on membership and Guide sales.
George Hack reported on the Futures Committee. It had considered organizing a Board training and another facilitated meeting to talk about the organization’s future. It was the consensus that with adding staff and all, things are in turmoil (in a good way). We are going to wait until we see how things develop before scheduling a facilitated meeting.
In Luanne McGovern’s absence, Cory presented her report. We are still sticking with the same priorities: (1) All things Public Lands; (2) Community Solar; (3) Orphaned Well Prevention; (4) Above Ground Storage Tanks; (5) PFAS Protection/Clean Drinking Water. The Legislature is frenetic as always and getting more so all the time. Determining the prospects for any of these issues is impossible at this stage and could change in a heartbeat. Progress on community solar seems less likely because of opposition from the coal industry.
The Climate Change committee is working on a booklet entitled Suggestions for What Individuals Can Do to Impact Climate Change. It is mostly finished but the law is changing in ways that might impact what is in the booklet so there may be revisions. It is undecided on how or when to publish it.
Dave Johnston reported on the Dolly Sods Stewards program. There is a lot going on. To learn all about it, see his full update here.
Rick Webb reported on the Appalachian Blue Ridge Alliance and, more specifically, the Conservation Hub that it supports. He gave us a tour of its website and the information it provides. The Appalachian Blue Ridge Alliance is not an advocacy organization. It provides mapping and information that makes it possible for advocacy organizations to be effective.
The breadth and depth of the information is impressive. Many of the topics are those of interest to the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy; some are not. There is so much useful information that, were anyone to try to read everything, their head would explode (there are no reported incidents of this happening; the hypothesis remains unproven). Having been warned of the potential perils, you should go look for yourself at www.abralliance.org to learn more about the Appalachian Blue Ridge Alliance or to conservation-abra.hub.arcgis.com where all the potentially head exploding information is collected.
Susan Rosenblum reported on the activities of the Rivers Committee. It has been, in cooperation with other groups, been training water monitors to establish baseline in the proposed path of Corridor H and document changes if it is constructed. She is very pleased with how the cooperation with other groups is going.
Cindy Rank reported on Extractive Industries. It is the same long, slow slog that it has always been. The committee is monitoring litigation and other developments, all in an effort to hold coal and gas industries and those who regulate them accountable.
Hugh Rogers reported on Corridor H. For a long time, he had thought of Corridor H as a backwater issue, with years of inactivity producing a kind of torpor. Not anymore. Now that picking a route is a real possibility in the near future, things are hopping. From his reading of public sentiment, most of the public (including populations of the towns most directly affected) favors the northern route (the one favored by the Highlands Conservancy). There has been no apparent movement by the Department of Highways. If it comes to litigation, we are loaded for bear.