It’s hard to believe that we are in October, but it is very evident witnessing the start of the annual transformation from green to the scarlet, purple, orange, yellow and brown of the fall foliage. While visiting Buffalo Lake, Spruce Knob Lake, Spruce Knob and Dolly Sods last week I saw individual trees that were absolutely spectacular. If Mother Nature keeps her pallet working, I believe we are in for a terrific show when the leaves reach their peak. I found Spruce Knob and Dolly Sods already crowded with visitors from all over the country even during the weekdays.
September saw a whirlwind of activities of interest to the Conservancy.
The Administration Relaxes Rules for Oil and Gas Drilling in National Forests
The administration has released its plan to make it easier for companies to drill for oil and gas on U.S. Forest Service lands, sparking strong complaints from environmentalists stating:
Specifically, the rule would:
● Reduce public input and transparency by removing the requirement that a Forest Service office give public notice of the decision to approve a Surface Use Plan of Operations, the specific plan for development.
● Allow the Forest Service to skip important and necessary environmental reviews for leasing decisions. This, together with other administration roll backs of NEPA regulations, undermines that law’s role in good forest management.
● Make it more difficult for the Forest Service to stop bad lease sales by removing explicit confirmation of USFS consent as a standard step in the leasing process and limiting the USFS to only protect certain specific resources.
● Loosen the rules by giving developers unbounded discretion to extend deadlines and comply with operating standards. Currently, compliance deadlines can only be extended if the operator cannot meet them due to factors out of their control.”
Comments concerning this proposed rule, the associated information collection, and/or the EA must be received by 60 days from date of publication in the Federal Register on September 1, 2020 https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2020-18518.pdf.
Comments Filed Opposing Endangered Species Act Modification
Sixty-Four conservation organizations, including Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA) (West Virginia Highlands Conservancy is a member of ABRA) filed comments on September 3 with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service in response to a proposal by the two agencies to define “habitat” in the regulations governing the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The comments, filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the conservation groups, argue that the agencies’ proposal would limit their “ability to protect and restore the habitats species need to recover” and is “contrary to the conservation mandate of the ESA.”
The comments state:
“In shaping legislation to address species extinction, Congress started from the finding that destruction and degradation of natural habitats are the primary drivers of extinction and biodiversity loss across the United States. Despite significant efforts to prevent extinction, however, biodiversity loss remains a significant and rapidly increasing problem in the Southeast (West Virginia is a part of the Southeast), across the United States, and abroad. Habitat degradation and loss are still the leading causes of extinction, a problem that will only get worse with climate change. If we are to remain committed to the goals of the ESA in the face of these challenges, protecting both occupied and unoccupied habitat to provide for the survival and recovery of listed species is of paramount importance.” The full text of the comments can be found at https://www.abralliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/SELC-Comments.ESA-Habitat-Definition-Revision-9-3-20.pdf
Monongahela National Forest Project Reviews
The WVHC Public Lands Committee is reviewing the projects in the Mon and will continue to do so.
Grassy Ridge Project Environmental Assessment (EA)
WVHC has received notice that the Monongahela National Forest – Cheat-Potomac Ranger District is interested in receiving comments on the Grassy Ridge Project Environmental Assessment (EA).
The Grassy Ridge Project is a 5,545-acre project area located in Randolph and Pendleton counties on the Cheat-Potomac Ranger District. The project area is located near Spruce Knob Lake, just east of the town of Osceola.
activities include: 187 acres of spruce release, 31 acres of spruce-hardwood regeneration, 58 acres of red spruce planting, 83 acres of conventional hardwood regeneration, 172 acres of helicopter hardwood regeneration, 246 acres of hardwood regeneration with up to 50 acres of targeted spruce investment, use of ten existing conventional and helicopter timber landings and creation of 7 new conventional landings, 20 miles/36 acres of skid trail creation and soil restoration activities following harvest, up to 728 acres of herbicide application, potential future timber salvage opportunities within analyzed timber units, up to 1.7 miles of large woody material additions to streams, up to 60 acres of riparian planting, 40 acres of spruce release/research for habitat enhancement, and a 6-acre cutback border. Full information concerning the project can be found at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=56948.
Gauley Healthy Forest Restoration Project
During September, the Gauley District Ranger issued an update to share information about the Gauley Healthy Forest Restoration Project https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=57335 intended to give an overview of where the actions would occur, why they are proposing them, what actions they are proposing, the status of the project and includes a project area map.
Information garnered from the update:
● a decision on the project has been delayed until early 2021
● formal consultation with USFWS will begin in September 2020
● the project area is to the south of and borders the previously proposed Big Rock project area, but there is apparently no overlap
● the “area of action” extends about 6 miles in total from north of Richwood to about 1 mile east of Summit Lake
● the total GHFR project boundary extends about 17 miles to the east, including the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area and the Falls of Hills Creek
The committee is awaiting the response to the Freedom of Information Act Request filed by ABRA on behalf of its 51 member groups for further review of the project.
I hope that you are able to get out and enjoy the transition of the mountains during October. Perhaps our paths will cross somewhere along the way.