WV In a Changing Climate

By Cory Chase

As someone who was born and raised in the Highlands of West Virginia, I consider myself lucky to be connected to this region and its people. I spent much of my childhood running around the forested mountains and streams of our little corner of Canaan Valley, WV. 

Admittedly, I also had a thirst (and a knack) for video games. But living amongst the mountains made it easy to get kicked off of the TV. As kids are prone to do, my brothers and friends would tromp about envisioning ourselves as medieval voyagers, elves, or whatever else our imaginations could conjure up. Some of us were protectors of the land, while others were the invaders. Plenty of dialogue and confrontation ensued as we hid in fallen leaves, leapt from rocks, and climbed trees. Battle cries were sung, sticks clashed, but we would all come home with just a few nicks (usually).

While it can be comforting to reminisce on a more innocent and imaginative time, the reality is that we do have to confront invaders and defend our land. We just do it in ways that don’t use magic spells or handmade spears. 

The less romantic side of environmentalism is the fact that much of the work has to do with being a watchdog on extraction industries and special interest groups, keeping tabs on the WV Legislature, reading technical reports, informing and organizing people and many other seemingly trite yet necessary actions. In short, protecting our natural resources is not a fantasy game where good just happens to triumph because that’s how most fictional stories end. It takes work and persistence, of course…and the work is never really finished. The appetites of the extraction giants will never be satiated. The fight to protect land will always be at the forefront of what WVHC does, as well as some other organizations around the state. And boy, do we have our work cut out for us. The siege will continue and our people and lands will have to be defended.

Our state has always been a battleground, a sacrifice zone. WV has been used and abused even before its inception; that impact deeply affects the people who live here. With a historic level of “brain drain” (educated young people leaving the state for better states/living conditions/jobs), I think it is fair to say that West Virginia is teetering on a precipice, if it has not cascaded over a waterfall already. 

As a state that has historically and will continue to supply the nation with natural resources like timber, coal, and natural gas, we must confront the very real effects that the extraction giants have had on our people and on the land and water we are all dependent upon. If you ask me, the brain drain here in WV is directly linked to nearly unimpeded resource extraction, shoddy tax codes written by industry lobbyists, and a stagnating workforce fostered by an unwillingness to embrace renewable energy and the expanding job market that comes with it. It is more complex than that, but these happenings are linked. 

Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time and it affects the links I just mentioned. Our Climate Change Committee has been working diligently to address the many aspects of this issue, including state and federal energy policy, green technology, and carbon sequestration.

To me, environmentalism addresses more than just our natural surroundings. It is part and parcel of movements for justice that intersect with social, political, and racial movements, too. For the environmental movement to make needed progress, we must address the human impacts, as well, and inform people of just what is at stake. Without a mass understanding of how these issues are intertwined and how they affect individuals and society as a whole, we may not be able to address the climate crisis that is actually past our doorstep. 

You, our readers and supporters, can help us do this, and many of you already do help us by your financial support, networking, and volunteering. We are proud to do the work to protect WV’s natural resources and preserve our public lands. We expect the 2022 WV Legislative Session to be a tough battle. It will likely include many attacks to strip protections from our public lands, including an organized effort to allow off-road vehicles onto Federal and State public lands, which could domino into other public lands getting damaged. Your support will help us organize resistance to this effort to damage our public lands. 

Our Public Lands Committee has been very active lately. Our new Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards program, in partnership with the US Forest Service (USFS), has had volunteer trail stewards at three major trailheads in Dolly Sods for the summer and fall of this year. The stewards have helped thousands of backpackers, hikers and tourists to safely enjoy this special wilderness area. We expect this program to grow with time and we hope that our partnership with USFS will also grow.

For decades the Conservancy has fought for the communities most harmed by mountaintop removal mining. Our support of Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance was instrumental in stopping the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Without organizations and people unifying to fight these projects, the giants will gladly pass on the negative effects to our communities and to people like you and me.

Your voice and your support matters. As we enter a time of hibernation and thoughtfulness, may we consider our place in this world and how we can contribute to its revitalization. We welcome your support and your input. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our work. You can also help us tremendously by recommending The Highlands Voice to friends and family through our free 6 month trial (no strings attached!) that anybody can sign up for on our website here: https://www.wvhighlands.org/higlands-voice-mag/  (There you will find the link to the free trial in the first sentence.) And don’t hesitate to reach out with questions, feedback, and/or ideas. info@wvhighlands.org

May our lands be protected!