November proved to be another month of increased of activity. Mother Nature also provided the first snow of the winter for much of the highlands. There was also a flurry of activity with issues about which we are most concerned.
Last month I reported that WVHC submitted comment letters for proposed projects within the Monongahela National Forest. All three project have major flaws in terms of protecting sensitive resources and potentially conflict with Forest Plan.
Comment letters to the Forest Service summited and our comments concerning issues were:
Spruce Mountain Grouse Management Area
This proposed project is in the Potomac Ranger District west and southwest of Spruce Knob Lake and is near the community of Osceola, WV. The objective of the project is to restore and maintain ruffed grouse habitat in the existing management area by increasing early successional habitat for cover and enhancing species diversity to increase foraging opportunities. Our comments addressed the Draft Environmental Assessment for the project and included the commitment to resource protection measures for sensitive resources, adverse impacts to commercial timber harvest in West Virginia northern flying squirrel habitat, Blue Ridge St. John’s Wort and Pearl Dace, and the prevention and control of non-native invasive species infestations.
Panther Ridge Wildlife Habitat Enhancement Project
This proposed project is in the Marlinton Ranger District seven miles east of Falling Springs on County Route 11 with the following project boundaries: Greenbrier River to the west, Little Creek to the east, Hopkins Knob to the south and Spice Run and is for wildlife enhancement. Our comments addressed the Draft Environmental Assessment for the project and inadequate alternatives analysis relative to the seven issues identified in the proposal, lack of a concise summary of all the proposed activities, impacts of fire lines in stream channels, inadequate analyses for threatened, endangered, sensitive, MIS, and other species and the prevention and control of non-native invasive species infestations. https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=53685
Big Rock Project
This proposed project is in the Gauley Ranger District within the Cranberry River watershed north of Richwood in Nicholas and Webster Counties and is to provide diverse early successional forest (clearcutting w/reserves 1342 acres), improve forest health and growth (traditional cut 702 acres and helicopter thin 491 acres) and provide water sources for wildlife (creation of 20 vernal pools). Our comments addressed the Draft Environmental Assessment for the project and included post-harvest rehabilitation of skid roads, management of non-native invasive species, ground-based harvest activity on steep slopes, roads on steep slopes, whole tree harvesting in savannas and the analysis for threatened, endangered, and sensitive plant species.
During November we were invited to participate in the initial planning meeting and tour the early planning for a new project, the Grassy Ridge Project. After the meeting and tour Kent Karriker, the Chair of the Public Lands Committee, submitted informal comments and suggestions to Troy Waskey, District Ranger who responded that they would include our comments in their pre-planning scoping conversations. Recommendations that were made were for the management of the Pharis Knob grazing allotment, commercial timber harvest in West Virginia northern flying squirrel habitat, concerns for the habitat of the Cheat Mountain salamander, post-project decommissioning of skid roads and the sufficiency of the NEPA effects analysis for the project.
WVHC will be working with District Rangers in charge of the projects concerning resolutions to our comments.
Another proposed project which surfaced last month is a pump storage project proposed on Backbone Mountain. See the separate article in this issue of the Voice (p. 4) for a complete description of the project.
Several members of the Board attended the CASRI “Partnerships for Connectivity” conference, which included sessions on soils, wildlife, vegetation, practitioner’s perspectives and field trips to see firsthand the 10 Years of Public and Private Spruce Ecosystem Restoration in Canaan Valley accomplished. Needless to say, the conference was a rousing success.
For decades, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has worked with partners and supporters to protect the incredibly important highlands of West Virginia. It is increasingly difficult to keep up as lots of good and potentially concerning information surfaces every day.