Thoughts from our president

As we move into December, the Covid19 pandemic of 2020 continues to radically change our lives, certainly making us fully aware of the vast treasurers that our West Virginia highlands have to offer and why it is so critically important that we continue our fight to preserve and protect the highlands for future generations. During this extremely unusual year, the Board and committees have continued the hard work of “Fighting to Protect the Highlands” as we have for over 53 years in spite of the issues that the pandemic has thrown at us.

Thousands of individuals have flocked to our highlands this year to escape that which the invisible, global pandemic has brought to their everyday lives. I have personally traveled to key destinations throughout the highlands to observe the reported overcrowding. Certainly the increased use of our public lands exhibits how essential it is for us to increase our efforts in the fight and win the war against those who want to destroy the environment and destroy the natural, scenic and historic areas within the West Virginia highlands.

The Conservancy’s accomplishments in the course of the considerably important battles to preserve the highlands during our 53+ years of existence have served the highlands well, but so much more remains to be accomplished as we move into the future. We are proud of our continued efforts and achievements during 2020, in spite of the restrictions caused by the pandemic, as witnessed through the great articles/stories that are published each month in The Highlands Voice. Committees are working hard on continuing issues, some that we have been working on for years, as well as identifying new issues that are threats to the future of the highlands.

Update: the Spotted Lanternfly Has Been Found in West Virginia

As reported in prior issues of The Highlands Voice, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) have confirmed the presence of the new, invasive insect, the Spotted Lanternfly, in West Virginia.

On October 30, 2019, a small population of Spotted Lanternfly was detected in the Bunker Hill area of Berkeley County, West Virginia. A current release stated that on August 20, 2020 a population of about 100 spotted lanternflies were discovered near Interstate 81 in Inwood, approximately 2 miles from the sighting location last year. Sightings have now been in Mineral and Berkley counties. After immediate action with insecticide to kill the insects and herbicide to kill the host tree, tree-of-heaven, a noticeable reduction in the insects was discovered. Once established the insect is known to feed on over a 100 species of plants in North America.

Why the alarm? Simple, the Spotted Lanternfly can devastate crops such as grapes, peaches, plums, cherries and hops along with our hardwood forests that are now at particular risk because the Spotted Lanternfly has arrived. 

If you suspect that you have found a Spotted Lanternfly, take a photo before trying to kill the insect as they can jump very far and disappear quickly and email the photo to bugbuster@wvda or call (304) 558-2212.

Public Lands Committee Recommends Scoping Comments for the 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).

On March 20, 2020 the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy submitted scoping comments on the proposed Project.  Since the initial scoping, several changes were made to the proposed action, including changes to the acres of treatment, and the creation of a project-specific Forest Plan amendment related to the West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel. In addition, activities proposed in the Gauley Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area (IRA) were specifically identified. Changes to the proposed action were the result of additional field analysis, updated GIS mapping information, and comments and recommendations received from the public. Because of these changes to the proposed action, the Forest Service provided this additional opportunity for comments on the Upper Elk Project. The Public Lands Committee has reviewed the additional details about the project and changes to the proposed action and submitted additional scoping comments and further stating that our comments submitted in March are still valid and must be addressed. 

Central Appalachia Spruce Restoration Initiative (CASRI) Conference “Measuring Restoration Success”

Several members of the Board attended CASRI’s 2020 “Measuring Restoration Success” conference which focused on quantitative and qualitative measures of success for restoration of the red spruce-northern hardwood ecosystem in Central Appalachia. Decades of boots-on-the-ground restoration actions and associated research and monitoring has resulted in quantifiable success stories and lessons learned, all of which provide important knowledge to inform future actions and approaches.

The conference gathered managers, practitioners, scientists, and leaders in the field to discuss the latest research findings, problem-solve common management challenges, and network to advance new and emerging partnerships. Strong partnerships enable the network to continue to advance landscape resilience and connectivity of red spruce forests across the region. Plantings have now exceeded 1,000,000 trees.

The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy helped establish and is an active collaborator with CASRI. Visit the CASRI website  for more information about the red spruce ecosystem, its ecology, history, research, news and events.

For decades, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has worked with partners and supporters to protect the incredibly important highlands of West Virginia. It is increasingly difficult to keep up, as lots of good and potentially concerning information surfaces every day.

Wishing everyone a wonderful and safe holiday season.