Thoughts from our president

Winter is marching through the highlands with freezing temperatures, strong winds (causing temperatures and wind chills to drop below zero on many of occasions) and several snowstorms blanketing the mountains. Temperatures in Canaan Valley plummeted to minus-31 degrees during the morning hours of January 22 setting a record low for the region. You can read an article that explains why temperatures can get so cold at this location at this link Temperature drops to minus-31 in West Virginia – The Washington Post. Even with the frigid weather the Conservancy committees and board have been very busy. It is critically important that we continue our fight to preserve and protect the highlands, focusing on new and exciting opportunities such as the Dolly Sods Stewards Program, but also that we continue to monitor unresolved and new issues that we have been working on or found as reported in each month’s issue of The Highlands Voice.

The West Virginia 2022 Legislature in in Full Session

The legislative session has begun, and bills are being introduced at a fast and furious pace. Members of the Highlands Conservancy Legislative Committee as well as the West Virginia Environmental Council (WVEC) Lobby Team are monitoring bill introductions for those of interest, both good and bad, compiling a list of those to be watched as they move through the process. As always you are encouraged to reach out to legislators and voice your opinion on bills. If you are unsure of who your Federal and State representatives are, you can quickly find out here Find Your State Legislators – Open States, which includes contact information. WVEC will send out “Green Legislative Updates” each Friday to keep everyone informed. They can be found here West Virginia Environmental Council (  WVEC also expects to send along action alerts on issues requiring immediate action, which can also be found at the link. Calling and emailing your legislators concerning important issues will be the best way to reach them to state your opinion.

An issue that the Conservancy is keeping an eye out for is legislation to permit the use of Off-Road Vehicles on West Virginia Federal and State public lands. The Public Lands Committee is preparing information concerning the issues involved that must be addressed before deciding to permit the use of Off-Road Vehicles on our public lands and the issues that must be assessed/studied to be sure that the environmental concerns of society are addressed before such a decision is made. This and the separate article in this issue of The Highlands Voice (p. 19) is an example of what the committee has compiled. 

Trails or Roads for Motorized Vehicles

We generally think of trails as benign paths on which people or animals move through a landscape. Motorized trails are a different character, as they require the creation of trails that are wide enough to accommodate the width of todays motorized vehicles. Transformation of a hiking trail into a motorized trail is the difference of both the width and character of the trail.

Standards for the width of a trail’s “tread” will vary in accordance with the type of recreational use. Hiking trails are at the narrowest prescription of a 12-inch tread width on “most difficult” trails, up to a 24-inch tread width on the “easiest” trails. 

Off-road vehicles on the other hand have a required tread width of from 48 to 64 inches wide. 

In addition, the amount of clearing appropriate for each type of trail use differs. A hiking trail requires a total clearing of between 3 and 4 feet while motorized trails must be cleared between 2½ to 3 feet on both sides of the tread. The clearing size added to the tread size results in a total clearing width of 10 to 13½ feet to accommodate motorized vehicle use of a trail. Add motorized vehicles to this 10-to-13½ -foot trail constructed for motorized vehicle use and what was once a quiet hiking trail becomes a road. That is the reason that we have compiled the Indicators for Studying and Evaluating Potential Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) Effects and Costs on West Virginia Public Lands (see p. 19 of this issue).

West Virginia federal and state public lands budgets do not have the resources to construct or maintain trails or roads designed for motorized vehicle use. 

Objection to the Proposed Greenbrier Southeast Project

The Public Lands Committee continues to monitor the proposed projects on the National Forests.  On January 3, 2022, the Conservancy filed the recommended objection to the Draft Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact for the Greenbrier Southeast Project (GSE).  The proposed project is located in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, on the Greenbrier Ranger District of the Monongahela National Forest (MNF).

The objection was made because the committee determined that there are significant deficiencies in the Final Environmental Assessment for the project.  These deficiencies leave the committee in doubt about whether sensitive resources would be protected adequately, such that—without additional analyses and protections—the impacts of the GSE project are likely to be significant.  The deficiencies fell into two broad categories:

  • Inattention to analysis requirements related to the endangered candy darter and its designated critical habitat.
  • Unsupported conclusions concerning project effects and incomplete development of proposed mitigations.

The committee recommended not to file additional comments on the Upper Elk Ecological Restoration Project since the Forest Service adopted some acceptable changes in response to comments filed earlier.

The Highlands Conservancy board met on January 23rd, highlights of which are reported in this issue of The Highlands Voice. I want to thank everyone in attendance as it was a very productive meeting. It is increasingly difficult to keep up as lots of good and potentially concerning information surfaces every day.

Please stay safe and warm during this another increase of the Corona Virus and extremely cold weather.