By Luanne McGovern
It’s no secret that the public lands of West Virginia continue to be under attack. The recent WV legislative session was filled with bills looking to privatize our state parks and open state lands to continual assault. The current administration in Charleston seems intent upon monetizing every scrap of state land, to add “attractions” and bring money into the state coffers. The federal government is still operating under many of the previous administration’s policies, and our national forests are continuing to be logged.
At times it can seem overwhelming, as the onslaught comes from all directions. Logging, oil and gas extraction, road building, habitat degradation, expansion of off road vehicle access … the list goes on and on.
But there are many ways that you – as an individual – can have a big impact and make a difference. West Virginia is a relatively small place and there is a great history of individuals who have stepped up and made things happen. Most organizations are avidly looking for new members and active volunteers.
Here are but a few suggestions:
Get involved in your local state park or state forest foundation. These foundations are really the first line of defense against improper use of our state lands. There are currently about 25 foundations, and the list can be found at www.wvspf.org. Or just call your local state park or forest and ask! Many of these organizations are looking for officers, board members or just enthusiastic volunteers. You can have a say in what happens in your state parks.
If your local state park or forest does not have a foundation – establish one! The state level foundation can help you get started ( www.wvspf.org ) and guide you along the way. It may seem like an overwhelming task to establish a new foundation, but every great journey starts with that first step. Think about the legacy you could leave behind.
Join and support a local or state conservation association. If you’re reading this, you are probably already a member of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (thank you!). But there are so many other grassroots organizations that need your help. The WVHC is partnered with several great organizations that always need help, such as Friends of Blackwater, Friends of Cheat, WV Rivers Coalition, West Virginia Environmental Council, WV Sierra Club, Greenbrier Watershed Association, Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, etc. There is sure to be an organization that fits your personal interest.
Volunteer your time in the field on conservation projects. Some great examples that were recently highlighted in the Highlands Voice include: Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards; CAPABLE (Cheat Aquatic Pollution And Baseline Ecological Monitoring Program); CASRI (Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative).
Perhaps most importantly – If you see something taking place on our public lands that doesn’t look right, let someone know. Contact the park or forest administration, document what is happening, follow up and make sure it is addressed. In many cases, the administration may be unaware of what is actually happening on the ground, or may be uninformed about the potential consequences (or both). I recently was able to have a positive impact in Kanawha State Forest, when road maintenance had the potential to impact rare and vulnerable plant populations. By bringing the issue immediately to the forest leadership, we were able to work together to avert a negative outcome.
As an informed and engaged citizen, you can make a difference!