Thoughts from our president

March, the month that will change our lives forever. It’s hard to believe the change in our world that has occurred with the Coronavirus pandemic spreading to over 140 countries. Who knows how long this worldwide event will last, but one thing seems for sure? Human activity throughout the world, including West Virginia, will likely be so much different. What changes and how things change remains to be seen.

What of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy stated mission? Is this a time when we can let down our guard and assume that everything will be fine? My thought is a big NO! Government agencies and industry have already demonstrated their willingness to take advantage of the situation and we must be even more vigilant and work even harder. Daily, I am receiving proof as many organizations are requesting support in working on issues that would affect the highlands and its environment. 

Rest assured, the Board and its committees are alert and seizing opportunities for the protection of West Virginia’s highlands.

March was again another busy month for the environmental community both federally and within West Virginia. 

The WVHC Public Lands Committee continued reviewing the United States Forest Service projects and has provided comments as appropriate. WVHC believes that early, frequent, and thorough public involvement is the key to designing a project that can achieve a consensus of support among the agency and the full spectrum of stakeholders. Comments were provided for two projects.

Grassy Ridge Project 

The Grassy Ridge Project is a 5,545-acre project area located in Randolph and Pendleton counties on the Cheat-Potomac Ranger District. Approximately 94% of land within the project area is under National Forest System ownership. This project area was partially managed under a previous NEPA decision (Big Mountain, 2016). Activities completed under the Big Mountain Decision included riparian and stream habitat restoration, aquatic passage improvements, and decommissioning of legacy ground disturbance features. 

The project area lies within the Management Prescription 4.1 of the Monongahela National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan, pg III-9), which emphasizes: 

Active and passive restoration of spruce and spruce-restoration communities. 

Research or administrative studies on spruce restoration. Recovery of threatened and endangered species and other species of concern associated with spruce and spruce-hardwood communities. 

Management of hardwood communities where spruce is a negligible or absent component. 

Generally restricted public motorized access and use. 

A mix of forest products.

WVHC comments included Purpose and Need, Spruce Enhancement and Connectivity, Age Class Diversification Using Vegetation Management, Wildlife Habitat Enhancement and Riparian and Stream Habitat Enhancement.

WVHC also provided informal comments on this project in November 2019 after attending the initial planning meeting.

Upper Elk Ecological Restoration Project

The Upper Elk Ecological Restoration Project is a 41,026 acre project area located in Pocahontas, Randolph, and Webster counties and is centered around the vicinity of Slatyfork, WV. In the Upper Elk project area boundary, an estimated 33,328 acres (81 percent) are National Forest System (NFS) lands, and 7,698 acres (19 percent) are private lands. Proposed activities would only take place on NFS lands within the project area.

The Marlinton-White Sulphur Ranger District of the Monongahela National Forest proposes to implement vegetation management, watershed improvement, recreation improvement, and associated activities within the Upper Elk project area over the next ten years to help meet direction in the Monongahela National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan).

WVHC comments included Purpose and Need, Commercial Timber Management – Regeneration and Thinning, Noncommercial Timber Stand Improvement, Spruce Restoration – Commercial Spruce Treatments, Spruce Restoration – Noncommercial Spruce Treatments, Road Work Related to Timber Harvest, Wildlife Habitat Enhancements – Commercial and Noncommercial Timber Management – Cutback Borders, Wildlife Habitat Enhancements – Wildlife Openings, Wildlife Habitat Enhancements – Water Sources for Wildlife, Watershed Improvement – Increased Road Maintenance, Watershed Improvement –Road Decommissioning, Watershed Improvement – Aquatic Organism Passage (AOP), Watershed Improvement – Stream and Riparian Habitat Enhancement, Soil and Water Restoration Treatments on Legacy Features, Recreation Improvements, Non-Native Invasive Species Treatment, Range Allotment Improvements. Other Considerations mentioned were the West Virginia northern flying squirrel, Potential for spruce restoration in MP 3.0, Potential impacts on the viewshed of the Highland Scenic Highway, Use of the terms “restoration” and “forest health”. 

The WVHC Public Lands Committee continues to monitor all project activities within the National Forest.

Ulysses Pumped Storage Hydropower Project

The March Highlands had a story, page 15, about the FreedomWorks, LLC (permittee) for the proposed Ulysses Pumped Storage Hydropower Project to be located in Grant County, West Virginia. On January 12, 2020 WVHC filed comments and a Motion to Intervene to establish status in the case before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should WVHC want to file additional comments or take further action once the proposed studies were completed.

On March 18, 2020 WVHC received a Notice of Surrender of Preliminary Permit filed by FreedomWorks, LLC, permittee for the proposed Ulysses Pump Storage Hydro Project. The preliminary permit for the project will remain in effect until the close of business, April 17, 2020. 

A public forum was held on the project at the Grant County Courthouse with more than 40 people signing up to speak during which Tim Williamson, the owner of FreedomWorks could not gain public support for the project and ultimately said he fully respected the wishes of the community and would pull all permit requests around the project from FERC.

In addition, WVHC has signed on to other organization comment letters on issues of interest to WVHC, after the appropriate WVHC committee has reviewed the letter and approved our signing on.

Thanks to all the WVHC committees for their work in protecting the highlands.

Please follow the guidelines and stay safe!!!