Thoughts from our president

Again, June, in addition to providing an abundance of rain, has produced a flurry of information that will be of interest to West Virginia Highlands Conservancy members. Information includes:


Status of the Land and Water Conservation Fund

Since 1964 the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has helped to acquire and improve public land across West Virginia. West Virginia has been a benefactor to nearly $240 million dollars for over 500 recreation, access, and conservation projects in 54 of our 55 counties.

LWCF has supported “wild and wonderful” icons of West Virginia like the Monongahela National Forest, New River Gorge National River, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, our state park system and has been essential in securing additional public access in the Spruce Knob – Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area. LWCF also helps fund local projects that contribute to our everyday quality of life in the Mountain State.

The future of LWCF funding is critical for future additional projects throughout West Virginia. Current funding is set to expire on September 30. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito have co-sponsored bills to permanently reauthorize the LWCF. We will need continue to advocate for the funding that supports sound management of our public lands by asking our senators and representatives to please support permanent reauthorization for LWCF and to work towards solutions that ensure full and reliable funding for the program year after year. Contact information for representatives is available at


Groups Request More Time to Comment on NEPA Overhaul

From an article by Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder, E&E News reporter

More than 350 groups have asked for more time to comment on the Council on Environmental Quality’s proposed rulemaking on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

When a company wants to build a pipeline, road or other infrastructure, federal agencies are required by the NEPA to review the project’s environmental impact.

Although each federal agency produces its own NEPA guidelines, changes to CEQ’s guidance would affect policies throughout the entire government.

Environmental groups including Earthjustice have decried the current 30-day public comment period as too brief, and submitted a formal extension request that asks for 90 days.

“The current comment period of 30 days is simply not adequate — especially for the public who rely on NEPA as the only way to weigh in on decisions impacting their communities and who must take time off work and away from their families to read the regulations and respond to this notice,” said a letter from groups.

A CEQ spokesman previously indicated the agency would weigh requests for an extended comment period.


Farm Bill Passes Senate; Conference Talks Next

The Senate passed its version of the 2018 farm bill paving the way for a conference with the House this summer.

Clashes in conference negotiations are likely to be over conservation programs, environmental protections in national forests and low-income nutrition assistance.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts said, “We have to work together and produce a good conference that can pass both houses, and that’s what we’re going to try to do”.

The current farm bill, enacted in 2014, expires at the end of September. If Congress can’t reach an agreement, a one-year extension is possible.

State foresters lauded the inclusion of measures to boost forest management projects that cross ownership boundaries and support for the Community Wood Energy and Regional Conservation Partnership programs. Their organization, the National Association of State Foresters, called for additional provisions in a final version, including language to help state foresters implement state forest management plans.

This promises to be an interesting negotiation.


Longhead Darter Status Assessment

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is responsible to identify species in need of protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act), The Service was petitioned to list the longhead darter under the Act by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and other groups, including the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy in 2010. In 2011, the Service made a 90-day petition finding for the species indicating that it may be warranted and initiated a status review.

Now in accordance with the Service’s National Listing Work plan and a court approved settlement agreement with CBD the Service must complete a status review and publish a listing determination for the longhead darter in the Federal Register by September 30, 2019. The Service will conduct a Species Status Assessment (SSA) using the best scientific information available to evaluate the species’ needs, as well as its past and current resiliency, redundancy, and representation and future conditions. The SSA will be the biological underpinning of the Service’s forthcoming decision on whether the longhead darter warrants protection under the Act.

The Service has obtained occurrence data through the State Heritage Programs. They are looking for additional information on the species’ distribution or how the distribution might have changed over time. They would like to receive any information throughout the process but prefer by July 20, 2018. If you have information to submit, please contact me at larryvthomas@aol.comand I will provide the PDF received providing information on where it can be submitted.


Blair Mountain Battlefield Site to National Register of Historic Places after Years of Legal Action by Coalition

The Interior Department restored protected status to a West Virginia mountain, rejecting objections from coal interests looking to strip mine the site of a 1921 miner uprising — the largest labor battle in American history.

Blair Mountain — where about 10,000 miners clashed with about 3,000 heavily armed coal company police over attempts to unionize — was added to the register in 2009, but Interior struck down the designation after a law firm closely tied to the coal industry objected.

A coalition of local and national environmental groups including the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy challenged the reversal, winning in federal court.

In 2016, Interior dropped its appeal and began reconsidering the listing, starting with resolving disputes over ownership of parcels within the site.

According to the June 27 decision, federal officials “determined that a majority of the private property owners (66.26%) did not object prior to the listing.”

“The Keeper’s decision allows us to seek additional protection from surface mining and gives us hope that very significant artifacts and historic sites may be studied and preserved for future generations,” said Friends of Blair Mountain Vice President Chuck Keeney, whose great-grandfather was a union leader who led the striking miners in 1921.

“In the case of Blair Mountain, mountaintop removal is also a threat to an important landmark of Appalachian culture and American history.”

Note:  For more on this, see the story on p. 1


Cancellation of Hunt at Chief Logan State Park – Statement from Friends of Blackwater

“A Win for Science — Logan County Citizens Defeat Park Deer Hunt Plan

“Friends of Blackwater is so proud of the citizens of Logan County, West Virginia, who united to stop a proposed deer hunt in Chief Logan State Park.

The WV Department of Natural Resources had announced earlier in 2018 that a “pay-to-play” hunt was needed due to overpopulation of deer in the Park, which can lead to illness among the herd and destruction of native species.

But when local resident Susan Perry filed a Freedom of Information request, she learned that there are no studies which show that any ecological damage had occurred at Chief Logan due to over-grazing by the deer herd. In fact, a memo from the head of the Wildlife Resources Section says, “The current deer population on Chief Logan State Park is not having significant negative impact on the park’s habitat or ecosystem function.” The memo concludes with a recommendation that they postpone the proposed hunt for this year, and that studies be conducted to determine if a hunt is appropriate in other years.  After this memo was revealed, the DNR Director announced on June 26 that the proposed hunt was cancelled.

Friends of Blackwater is proud to have helped the Logan citizens with their campaign.  Thanks to all of our supporters who voiced their opinions and who contribute to help us do this important work.

We were pretty sure that there was no scientific evidence that supported this kind of radical change in park use.  The real motive seems to be a desire by a few people to “cash-in” on tame deer and over-zealous hunters.

Now we hope the DNR will put up some scientific evidence for its other “hunting in the Parks” plans – or drop them.

That would be stewardship, not profiteering.”


Planning for the 2019 Legislative Session

Members of the WVHC board of directors recently attended a planning meeting of the West Virginia Environmental Council. It was decided that the time to start for the 2019 legislative session is now. After a discussion of the finances the WVEC board voted to hire a part time coordinator starting July 1 and a job description was developed.

Preparations for the 2019 session were discussed along with the requirement to receive member group legislative priorities sooner that later. Based on that discussion, I will be placing WVHC legislative priorities on the WVHC board agenda for July 21 to enable submitting them ASAP.

WVEC fund raising activities for the coming year were also discussed.

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 comes out every day.