By Rick Steelhammer
A plan to commercially log more than 1,600 acres of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge to achieve plant and wildlife habitat improvement goals has been dropped.
The plan — announced to the public in August — was initially scheduled to begin this winter on Middle Ridge, off the refuge’s A-Frame Road. It called for commercially harvesting 1,600 acres of northern hardwood forest in 30- to 40-acre annual increments, and repeating the process in 40-year cycles.
The plan also called for an additional 1,600 acres of timber to be cut, using both in-house and commercial contract timbering, to create mixed-age forest along the perimeters of northern hardwood forest stands.
Together, both components of the plan would have affected about 20 percent of the refuge’s 16,653 acres.
But after a pair of public meetings and a 30-day public comment period which he said produced “a significant amount of feedback,” Refuge Manager Ron Hollis recently announced on the refuge’s website that other methods would be used to meet the refuge’s habitat goals.
“I have decided not to pursue commercial forest management on the refuge at this time,” Hollis said in the posting. Instead, Hollis and his staff will “cut a limited number of trees” to establish “experimental habitat plots along forest edges,” and then monitor the plots to see how priority wildlife species respond to them.
Commercial logging will not take place while the experimental habitat plots are created and monitored. But the information they provide, Hollis said, will help managers plan “for broader commercial forestry operations on refuge land in the future.”
“We appreciate the refuge’s willingness to listen to public input and adapt their management approach,” said Judy Rodd, director of Friends of Blackwater, one of at least four conservation groups that opposed the commercial logging plan.
Note: This article originally appeared in The Charleston Gazette.