From the Western Slope of the Mountains

By Frank Young


Conservancy's Committees Do Us Proud


The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (WVHC) is governed by its officers and a Board of Directors.

The "issue" work of the Conservancy is performed mostly by volunteers who serve on various committees appointed by the President.

In addition to various organizational committees which attend to the administration of keeping the organization functional, the issue committees are: Mining Committee, Public Lands Management Committee, Blackwater Canyon Committee, Rivers Committee and the Highways Committee.

Recently the publication G.R.E.E.N., produced by the West Virginia Environmental Council (E-council), had an article about the Conservancy's Blackwater Canyon Committee and the content of some of its television advertising. Apparently even the President of E-council was caught off guard by this snipe in its newsletter.

All the committees of the Conservancy deserve recognition for their efforts toward a good environment. And I herein resolve to highlight these committees' accomplishments in future VOICE articles. Since the WVHC Blackwater Canyon (BWC) Committee was singled out by the G.R.E.E.N. commentator, this column is mostly about this committee.

Despite the G.R.E.E.N. article implications, the BWC Committee consists of many volunteers. Two consecutive Presidents of the Conservancy have recognized Linda Cooper and Judy Rodd as co-chairs of the BWC Committee.

From time to time Linda and Judy have recruited a dozen or so Conservancy members for BWC Committee related activities.

The Conservancy's Blackwater Canyon Committee was formed nearly three years ago to confront the new challenges to the forest, the river, the related ecology of the 3000 acre or so tract known as Blackwater Canyon, and the areas adjacent to the Blackwater Canyon. Major threats to the magnificent Canyon include timbering of the Canyon’s canopy of "second growth" maturing trees and accompanying viewshed destruction, road building, skid trails, destruction of the habitats of several endangered species, "posting" of long recognized public access trails. Even permit applications were filed that could lead to commercial development of Canyon properties near the State Park, and related political agreements were made for the use of the State Park for access roads and utility easements.

To confront and thwart these threats, the WVHC Blackwater Canyon Committee has successfully used public information campaigns, a petition drive, pleas to public officials, and a lawsuit against the governor and other state officials. In addition, it helped organize a direct and successful challenge to an attempt by Allegheny Wood Products Co. (AWP) to close the public Blackwater Canyon Trail, a Monongahela National Forest hiking trail. And WVHC's Endangered Species Act lawsuit, managed by the BWC Committee and attorneys retained by it, has been successful in affecting the management of AWP’s timbering operation in the Canyon.

The work of the BWC Committee has been costly. But, except for some start-up funds from the Conservancy’s general fund, the BWC Committee has raised the funds to support its activities on its own. Through direct mail appeals to Conservancy members and others who have indicated interest, through fund-raisers held at near and far locations, and through generous gifts, some large and some small from various benefactors, the BWC Committee has financed the campaign that has created a strong public and media awareness of threats to the Canyon, has created a political climate that recognizes the plight of the Canyon in the minds of office holders and office seekers, and has caused state and federal courts and several state and federal agencies to focus on better management of Blackwater Canyon as a resource in which the public has a recognizably strong interest.

Has all this been happening in a vacuum, and without controversy? No, of course not. Our members, officers and directors have let our committees know that we expect accountability and responsibility for activities done in the name of the Conservancy. And the BWC Committee has responded to those expectations.

We thank the Blackwater Canyon Committee and all the other Conservancy committees for their hard work. Hardly ever have so few accomplished so much with so little as do our hard working committee volunteers.

Our committee volunteers don’t need the sniping from other organizations. They need our help, sometimes our dollars, and, perhaps most of all sometimes, a sincere "Thank you" for persevering in the face of almost overwhelming adversity and odds.

THANK YOU, WVHC committees!