Thoughts from our president

Old man winter certainly has arrived in the highlands with freezing temperatures, strong winds (causing wind chills to drop below zero) and several snowstorms blanketing the mountains. It is impossible to predict Old Man Winter’s plans for February and March, but we will have to deal with whatever we get. As mentioned in the January issue of The Highlands Voice, it is critically important that we continue our fight to preserve and protect the highlands, focusing on new and exciting opportunities. In addition, we continue to monitor unresolved issues that we have been working on as reported in The Highlands Voice.

West Virginia 2021 Legislative Session to Begin 

We are fast approaching the 2021 legislative session, which starts February 10. The West Virginia Environmental Council (WVEC) is expecting things to be much different this year with access to the Capitol building being limited and the process for posting agendas and confirming public hearings remaining unclear.

West Virginia Environmental Council has been in preparation mode, reaching out to legislators and working with coalition partners. Starting February 12, WVEC will send out “Green Legislative Updates” each Friday to keep everyone informed. We also expect to send along more frequent action alerts as calling and emailing your legislators will be the best (only?) way to reach them this session.

            There is a lot to tackle this year. Topping the list from member groups received as responses to a member survey taken last fall were water quality, climate change, and clean elections (changing the political rules that favor special interests and giving regular West Virginians an equal voice in our government).

Specifically, the focus will be on the following priorities:

  • Water quality standards rule and the Safe Drinking Water bill
  • Power Purchase Agreements legislation
  • Expansion of recycling including styrofoam
  • Protection of funding for DEP inspectors in the state budget
  • Resolution to study energy use in state buildings
  • Just Transition bill
  • Disclosure of dark money political expenditures

In addition, every year as legislation is introduced, there are issues that arise which must be addressed.  A great example was the “Logging in State Parks” legislation that was introduced three years ago. With a monumental effort, the coalition was able to convince the legislators that that was a terrible idea and the legislation stopped. I am hearing that this year it will be the allowance of motorized vehicles in certain state-owned public lands, an issue that the Conservancy has always opposed. 

Additionally, WVEC expects to use a good deal of its resources to educate the large number of newly elected legislators, especially in the House of Delegates, and to provide fact sheets and grassroots outreach on any potentially harmful legislation as well as proactive bills.

West Virginia Highlands Conservancy is a member and supporter of WVEC.

Bear Rocks is Designated as a National Natural Landmark

The National Natural Landmarks Program recognizes and encourages the conservation of sites that contain outstanding biological and geological resources.  Sites are designated by the Secretary of the Interior for their condition, illustrative character, rarity, diversity, and value to science and education.  The National Park Service administers the program and works cooperatively with landowners, managers and partners to promote conservation and appreciation of our nation’s natural heritage.

The Bear Rocks and Allegheny Front, owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, earned the coveted designation on January 19, 2021. It is the best example of a plateau within the Appalachian Plateaus Province. This stunning high-elevation plateau provides a vantage point from which to view the surrounding lands for miles. It also supports a diverse ecology, including cold-adapted, wind-swept spruce trees, normally found much farther north. 

Public Lands Committee Starts Review of Another Project

The United States Forest Service announced the proposal of the Cheat River project on the Cheat-Potomac Ranger District on the Monongahela National Forest, which is in the beginning stages of development. 

The 86,138-acre project area is located north of Parsons in Tucker County, and a small section of Barbour and Preston counties, and includes National Forest System lands within the Upper Cheat River watershed. This project aims to move the project area closer to the Forest Plan desired conditions by improving forest health and age class diversity, improving wildlife habitat, and enhancing stream and riparian corridors, potentially through the creation of early successional habitat, timber management, prescribed burning, and stream restoration.

Several members of the Board have met with representatives of the Forest Service concerning the proposed project and will continue to monitor this project as it moves forward.

West Virginia Highlands Conservancy will continue this important work:

(A) To preserve and protect areas of particular scenic, geologic, biologic, historic, wilderness, and/or recreational importance in West Virginia.  

(B) To aid in the establishment of nature reserves or other protected areas for scientific, educational or aesthetic purposes.

(C) To conduct regional and resource use planning studies as a basis for the wise use of the various resources of West Virginia; to develop programs in conservation education; all to the end that the Conservancy shall serve the people of West Virginia as an agency for popular enlightenment, for cultural improvement, and for scientific advancement.

(D) To advocate governmental policies for the conservation and wise management of West Virginia’s natural resources.

It is increasingly difficult to keep up as lots of good and potentially concerning information surfaces every day.

Please stay safe during this crazy time.