Thoughts from our president

Summer has arrived and Mother Nature continues to show off her amazing splendor throughout the highlands. As one travels throughout the mountains the trees have leafed out and wildlife is everywhere. It is fantastic to see the flowers blooming and wildlife mothers (birds and animals) taking care of their young. Certainly, it makes us forget that we are living in a new, very strange world of isolation because of the COVID-19, if only for a little while, as we are enjoying the splendor all around us. Hopefully, the Coronavirus has not affected you or your family members.

Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Great American Outdoors Act 

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was established by Congress in 1964 to fulfill a bipartisan commitment to safeguard our natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. Unfortunately, the LWCF was allowed to expire on September 30, 2019.

As reported in prior Highlands Voice articles, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (WVHC), as a part of the West Virginians for Public Lands (WVPL) has been working with other groups to get Congress to permanently authorize and permanently fund LWCF.

Congressional action has already permanently authorized Land and Water Conservation Fund; now it will no longer be required to be renewed from time to time, as it has been since it was created. Legislation has now been entered to provide the permanent funding that we are seeking.

The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) is historic bipartisan legislation that permanently and fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The GAOA ensures that the LWCF will receive full program funding each year without going through a drawn-out appropriations process which often leaves it underfunded; it is designed to provide funding for recreation and conservation projects on local, state, and federal public lands. These investments will lead to job creations and bolstering of the outdoor recreation economy throughout West Virginia. To date, LWCF has provided over $241 million to support over 500 projects across the Mountain State. 

            Not only does the Great American Outdoors Act invest in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, it addresses the $12 billion maintenance backlog plaguing our nation’s public lands. The Act provides desperately needed funding to repair infrastructure like roads, trails, recreation sites, bridges, buildings, and water systems. 

            On June 17, the Senate voted in favor of GAOA, giving our wild and wonderful public lands a real boost. Now, the bipartisan Act has moved to the House for consideration. 

It is time to help our nation’s economy recover from these turbulent times. That is why we need our members in the House to support and vote for the Great American Outdoors Act ensuring permanent investment in the lands that make America great. To help ensure that outcome, we are asking that you, our members, call your member in the House and ask for their support and vote for GAOA. This is critical time for LWCF, and they need to hear our voices.

West Virginia House members and their telephone numbers are:

    Alex Mooney  (202) 225-2711

    Carol Miller  (202) 225-3452

    David McKinley  (202) 225-4172

It would also be great to thank both of our West Virginia Senators for their efforts in getting this important legislation passed in the Senate. Please take a minute and give them a call.

    Joe Manchin, III   (202) 224-3954

    Shelley Moore Capito   (202) 224-6472

Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance Construction Surveillance Initiative and Conservation Hub Programs

During June, work continued on both of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA) projects. The core of the Construction Surveillance Initiative program is a network of volunteers from communities affected by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) in West Virginia and Virginia.  The program also involves technical and regulatory monitoring dimensions to help identify and analyze possible construction violations and actions and report them to appropriate regulatory authorities. Even with the current lull in the construction of the ACP, monitoring of the project still continues.

The Conservation Hub (Hub) is a project that will focus on reviewing and assessing land management and development proposals (beyond the current pipeline projects that are the principal focus of ABRA’s efforts) affecting the central Appalachian Highlands and adjoining areas. The intent of the Hub mapping systems is to overcome systemic limitations that regularly undermine public participation in permit review and thwart implementation of environmental regulations and policy. Those limitations could include lack of access to critical, but ever-changing project plans and impact analysis, consideration of individual projects or project components in isolation, and the general absence of an orderly and transparent regulatory process. The Hub advisory committee is currently reviewing several proposed projects for possible approval.

Monongahela National Forest Project Reviews

            The WVHC Public Lands Committee continues to review current projects in the Mon that have been reported in past issues of The Highlands Voice and will continue to do so. The committee and other organizations have become aware of another project called the Gauley Healthy Forest Restoration Project. The project is adjacent to, and east of Richwood and extends eastward to the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center.

It appears that the Forest Service is planning to categorically exclude this project from the usual NEPA review, which means no public comment, so it may be difficult to find out what is going on. The committee and other organizations are trying to get information to review about the project.

Please, everyone, stay safe during this continued coronavirus situation. We still need to follow the precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with local health and safety guidance. I am seeing many individuals traveling to the mountains, I assume to get away from it all. Maybe I will see you on the mountains.