The month of January brought one of the most incredible snowstorms in recent memory to the West Virginia highlands. So far, Canaan Valley has seen 103.5 inches of snowfall. I hope you had the opportunity to enjoy the quiet and beauty of the surrounding mountains blanketed in snow. As the climate changes, every snowfall becomes ever more special. Signs of spring have started to peek through the hills, but old man winter has not moved on from the highlands just yet.
During the first month of the New Year, staff and committees of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy have hit the ground running. The West Virginia legislative session is a pivotal time for our organization, demanding our unwavering attention as we ensure the protection of the landscapes we hold dear.
As we navigate the ups and downs of this legislative session, your support and advocacy play a crucial role in our collective efforts to preserve our state’s ecological treasures for generations to come.
This month’s letter will provide a glimpse into the activities of WVHC so far in 2024.
During January, WVHC:
- Supported West Virginia Rivers Collation’s Clean Water for All Event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Elk River chemical spill. WVHC was represented at the event by Program Director Olivia Miller, Membership and Operations Director Crys Bauer, and Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards Program Coordinator Dave Johnston.
- Held our first 2024 quarterly board meeting on January 10th at the Kanawha Public Library in Charleston. See the report on the meeting on page 11. 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.
- Our Highways and Public Lands Committees submitted a letter with partner groups to the Monongahela National Forest encouraging a higher-level National Environmental Policy Act review process for the Appalachian Corridor H Core Drilling Special Use Authorization. In the letter, we requested that the Monongahela National Forest preclude the use of a categorical exclusion to satisfy the NEPA review based on our concerns over the impact on extraordinary resource conditions and improper use of a categorical exclusion. Appalachian Voices, Stewards of the Potomac Highlands, Friends of Blackwater and the West Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited signed in support of the letter.
- Olivia Miller and Board Member Randy Kesling represented WVHC at a meeting with State Senator Mark Maynard, chairman of the Senate Outdoor Recreation Committee during the 2024 West Virginia Legislative Session. Mike Jones of West Virginians for Public Lands and Lucia Valentine and Isabel Stellato, lobbyists for the West Virginia Environmental Council, were also in attendance. The groups presented our priorities for public lands as set by the West Virginia Environmental Council and expressed concern over the environmental impacts of off-road vehicle trail expansion on our public lands.
- Joined conservation groups in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for failing to protect streams designated as critical habitat for the endangered candy darter in the Cherry River watershed from harmful effects of coal hauling in the Monongahela National Forest. Read more about the lawsuit on page one.
- Our Renewable Energy Committee submitted comments in defense of net metering to the West Virginia Public Service Commission regarding First Energy’s proposal to reduce the amount that it pays individual producers of solar power for the electricity their private solar panels add to the electricity grid. Read more about our comments on page eight.
- Our Public Lands Committee submitted comments on the scoping period for the proposed Land Management Direction for Old-Growth Forest Conditions Across the National Forest System amending all 128 National Forest Plans to restrict logging of old-growth and being guiding stewardship of future old-growth.
- WVHC continues to participate in the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative, (CASRI). CASRI is comprised of private, state, federal, and non-governmental organizations which recognize the importance of the red spruce ecosystem for its ecological, aesthetic, recreational, economic, and cultural values that have planted nearly 1,000,000 trees and released over 2,000 acres of red spruce. In West Virginia alone, the range of spruce-influenced forests has shrunk by between 450,000 acres and 1,350,000 acres since the late 1800’s. With rapid landscape changes encroaching from climate change, we need to act quickly and effectively to restore our forests on a wider scale. WVHC supported CASRI’s annual meeting at Blackwater Falls by covering the cost of the event space.
Thank you for your continued dedication to WVHC, and I look forward to updating you on the progress we make during this busy legislative session.