Thoughts from our president

November was another very active month for the Conservancy, and we are very proud of our efforts and accomplishments in spite of the many restrictions that the Covid19 pandemic placed upon our everyday activities. During another extremely unusual year, the Board and committees have continued the hard work of “Fighting to Protect the Highlands”, as we’ve done for over 54 years. The great articles that have been published each month in the Highlands Voice are evidence of all their efforts.

Thousands of individuals flocked to our highlands again this year to escape that which the global pandemic brought to their everyday lives. The increased use of our public lands is further proof of how essential it is to increase our efforts in the struggle to win the war against those who would destroy the environment and the natural, scenic, and historic areas within the West Virginia highlands.

Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards Program

Visitations to the Bear Rocks Preserve and Dolly Sods Wilderness Area continued to keep the Wilderness Stewards at the trailheads very busy; the fantastic colors provided every week as the leaves changed brought in hordes of people.

Other stewards were involved with the solitude monitoring survey. Their purpose was to talk with visitors about their experiences while visiting the wilderness. The survey results will be used to gauge the opportunity for solitude in the Dolly Sods Wilderness, which is one of the elements in the Wilderness Stewardship Performance program. 

Members of the Dolly Sods Wilderness Committee also met with the Ranger and other representatives of the Potomac Ranger District to assess the first season, reviewing general observations, suggestions, and recommendations. In addition, plans were discussed for next season. It was agreed that the program has been very well received.

Scoping Comments for the Proposed Gauley Healthy Forest Restoration Project

The Conservancy submitted scoping comments on the proposed Gauley Healthy Forest Restoration Project (GHFR). The Conservancy had previously submitted unsolicited scoping comments on the project on February 3, 2021. The comments in the previous letter and in this current letter were based on information made available on the project website, as well as on information contained in the Forest Service’s partial response to a July 31, 2020 Freedom of Information Act Request filed by The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance in which the Conservancy is a coalition member.

Based on our review of the information, we have identified several concerns with the proposed project. Our concerns are summarized as follows:

●The Project Does Not Fit the Healthy Forest Restoration Act Section 603 Categorical Exclusion.

●The Project is an Improper Segmentation of the Vegetation Management Program in the Project Area.

●The Effects Analysis Indicates the Potential for Significant Effects to Several Resource Areas.

●An Analysis of Cumulative Impacts on the Candy Darter is needed.

Our conclusion is that because the GHFR project does not qualify for the HFRA Section 603 CE, and it has the potential for significant effects, particularly on the endangered candy darter, the project should not proceed under a Categorical Exclusion. We requested that the project be combined with the Cranberry-Spring Creek project and be re-scoped as one Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement, and that full and open public involvement be conducted.

New EPA Rules: Natural-Gas Facilities to Show Air-Pollution Data

A Public News Service report, in part, states:

“Natural-gas processing plants in West Virginia and around the country will soon have to start publicly reporting the chemicals they release, according to new regulations announced by the EPA.

Natural-gas processing plants release a cocktail of chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene, hydrogen sulfide, methanol, N-hexane and other compounds with known harmful effects on human health.

Tom Pelton, Director of Communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, said agencies need accurate records of air pollution to set standards for protecting public health, but so far have been in the dark.

“The way a state government for example, or the EPA, justifies stronger air-pollution control requirements is through data, is through information,” Pelton asserted.

The rules will take effect next year, with the first air pollution reports due to regulators in 2023. The government argued their deadline gives facilities ample time to estimate releases and waste-management quantities for chemicals they manufacture, process, or otherwise use.

The EPA estimates the oil and gas extraction industry emits at least 127,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants every year. 

            “So it’s a significant source of hazardous air pollution, and now we’re going to start learning about how much of it is coming from these natural-gas processing plants,” Pelton concluded.

            The EPA’s new regulations do not apply to drilling well sites, compressor stations, pipelines, and facilities employing fewer than ten people.”

            One WVHC director’s great comment and question: “What I don’t understand is having industry first tell how much of what is released and then expecting agencies to then determine standards and/or limits. Doesn’t this seem a little backwards? Doesn’t EPA and WVDEP set limits and then expect industry to report releases and stay within limits?” 

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.

I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a wonderful and safe holiday season.