Thoughts from our president

Old man winter certainly has been kind to the highlands with milder weather and little snow to date. However, who can predict Old Man Winter’s plans for February and March? As I look out my windows at the trees on the very top of Allegheny and North mountains, which seem frozen in time, my thoughts once again turn to the many issues that WVHC addressed during 2019. WVHC worked through partnerships with other organizations on specific issues, continued monitoring issues such as mountaintop removal mining and valley fills and gas pipelines proposed or under construction, reviewed and filed comments for proposed projects in the national forest and continued participation as a member of the West Virginia Environmental Council. The list continues to grow as we move ahead.

Monongahela National Forest Watershed Order of Entry Partnership Meeting

January 30, Monongahela National Forest Supervisor Shawn Cochran and members of the Forest Leadership Team invited forest partners and stakeholders to a roundtable discussion in Elkins. Shawn and the Team shared detailed information about the forest service’s new strategic plan for comprehensive management of the Forest, which will assist in providing consistent and predictable outputs into the future. Kent Karriker, Chairman of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy’s Public Lands Committee and I attended.

The Forest Service’s Watershed Management Order of Entry Strategy Revealed 

The Monongahela National Forest has developed a watershed-based order of entry strategy to provide an efficient National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review and decision-making process. The purpose of the effort is to implement the 2006 Revised Forest Plan and to move the forest toward the desired future conditions, as laid out in the Plan. This approach will take the guess work out of planning and provide opportunities for aligning projects with partners and stakeholders. With this strategy, the Forest can sustain two large-scale NEPA projects simultaneously, one on each zone.

The roundtable provided an opportunity for partners and stakeholders to begin to identify shared stewardship opportunities for their organization’s involvement in each watershed and how we can all work better together, celebrate what has been working well, and brainstorm solutions for challenging issues.

Supervisor Cochran welcomed the group and presented opening remarks followed by an overview of the United States Department of Agriculture State and Private Forestry presented by Field Representative Joe Koloski. We then broke into two groups for presentations and discussions with the District Rangers of the North and South zone projects. Afterwards, we returned for a general discussion about what we learned in the small group discussions. The forest service representatives gave suggestions for how partners and stakeholder can get involved and partners and stakeholder gave suggestions to and asked questions of the forest service. We then had a discussion of next steps.

Detailed information, in the form of handouts, concerning each watershed district in the North and South zones and the projected entry years for each watershed starting with year 2020 through 2030 was presented, showing the total project acreage and the total acreage for each watershed along with historical and other information about the forest.  Both the handouts and the discussion showed a strong emphasis on commercial timber harvesting, which is consistent with the Forest Service’s recent push at the national level to speed up and expand the timber harvesting. Forest restoration and sustainability are also management goals.

There was a lot of enthusiasm evidenced in the group, indicating that participants appreciated the opportunity to learn about the Forest Service’s plans.

United States Fish and Wildlife Service Announcements

Big Sandy crayfish and the Guyandotte River crayfish, January 28, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced that it will publish an Endangered Species Act proposed rule in the Federal Register to designate critical habitat for the Big Sandy crayfish (Cambarus callainus) and the Guyandotte River crayfish (Cambarus veteranus).  The proposed critical habitat rule will be open for a 60-day public comment until March 30, 2020.  If the Service finalizes this rule as proposed, it would extend the Act’s protections to these species’ critical habitat.  The Service also announced the availability of a draft economic analysis (DEA) of the proposed designation of critical habitat for the Big Sandy and Guyandotte River crayfishes.  

Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, January 23, 2020 

The U.S. Fish and Service prepared a draft recovery plan for the rusty patched bumble bee, and the plan is now available for review and comment. The Service listed the bee as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2017. The ESA requires the agency to prepare recovery plans for listed species. This plan provides a road map for conserving the rusty patched bumble bee and the habitat it needs to survive.

Candy Darter Protected as Endangered, November 20, 2018

Following a review of the best available scientific information, peer review and public comment, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Candy Darter as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Darter is found only in five watersheds in Virginia and West Virginia, and nearly half of the populations documented since 1932 have disappeared.

The Service is also proposing critical habitat designations for the Darter in the five watersheds in which it lives. Critical habitat designation would not impact landowner activities that do not involve federal funding or require federal permits.

West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel, January 21, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed a monitoring report confirming that the West Virginia northern flying squirrel, removed from the endangered species list in 2013 due to recovery, remains well distributed across its range and continues to be found at new, expanded and historic sites. In the first five years since delisting, partners across 22 organizations protected, created or restored 7,455 acres of red spruce-northern hardwood forest, which is the squirrel’s habitat. The report covers 2013-2018, and the agency will develop and release a second report covering the following five years. Post-delisting monitoring is intended to verify that a recovered species remains secure from risk of extinction after the protections of the Endangered Species Act no longer apply. The primary goal is to ensure the species’ status does not deteriorate, and if a substantial decline in the species (numbers of individuals or populations) or an increase in threats is detected, to take measures to halt the decline.

2020 continues to be another busy year for the Conservancy board and its committees and we will keep you informed, as events occur, through the Voice.