Letter from Randy Dye

Division of Forestry Head Responds to Conservancy Member Requests

 

(Dave Saville has beginning comments. He also kibitzes in reaction to some of Dyeís statement. Daveís raves are in bold and italics)

Our West Virginia Members may remember getting a letter from us concerning the State Forest management plans being developed by the West Virginia Division of Forestry (WVDOF). Included with the letter was a postcard addressed to the Director of the WVDOF, Randy Dye. This was a convenient way for you to become involved in the planning process for our State Forests. We would like to thank all the folks who requested draft management plans, and urge you to carefully review them, as you receive them, and send in comments, however specific or general, or however brief. Below is the text of the letter sent by the WVDOF director in response to folks who sent in the postcards. For those of you who did not get it, we are passing it along here.

Mr. David Saville

PO Box 306

Charleston, WV 25321

Dear Mr. Saville:

I am writing in response to requests from the membership of your organization, the Highlands Conservancy, for completed State Forest Plans.

First of all I want to thank you for recognizing the fact that what you have sent us are indeed "Completed State Forest Plans." What we were really interested in, though, were draft forest plans as was clearly stated on our postcards. The difference is significant because people want the opportunity to comment during the formation of the Forest Management Plans

This request has overloaded our typical method of responding to inquiries from the public. All eight plans have been requested by 65 members with approximately 100 members asking for the more recent plans for Cal Price, Seneca and Camp Creek. This request would cost the Division of Forestry approximately $4,200, which in turn must be charged to the Highlands Conservancy or its individual members.

The WVDOF has since capitulated and is now agreeing to send Highlands Conservancy members plans the same as it does for the rest of the population.

As a more cost-effective alternative, let me suggest that these plans be posted on the WVDOFís web site, which is under development, for your members to review. I hope you will agree this alternative is more efficient and cost-effective. I shall await your official response before proceeding.

It would certainly be helpful.

I would like to take this opportunity to compliment your organizationís members on their involvement in issues concerning the environment...

Me too.

...and to share some facts relating to West Virginiaís forests that may be of interest to them. First of all I want to thank you for recognizing the fact that the WVDOF has developed a process for public comment on State Forests. This is a first. Not many state agencies or organizations implement a process for criticism.

Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio all use public involvement in planning for their state forests.

The WVDOF welcomes constructive criticism that is based on facts so we can strive for continuous improvement.

Unfortunately, facts seem hard to come by these days. Recently your membership has received information, some of which was from other state agencies, regarding our State Forests that is misleading or even completely false. It is my intention to clear up those items with this letter.

I would like to make your membership aware that two State agencies actually manage State Forests. The DNRís [West Virginia Division of Natural Resources] Parks and Recreation section is responsible for developed recreation areas, while the WVDOF manages the larger forested areas. A process has been put in place by the WVDOF, which allows Parks to help us in developing plans for the State Forests. While this is not a perfect process, we are continually working with Parks to better our plans for the future.

A perfect example of how wrong information can be used occurred at the Kanawha State Forest.

What "wrong information" ?

I am very pleased this issue came to an end thanks to the insight of Governor Cecil H. Underwood. Our State Forests were established in West Virginia law to be demonstration areas of multiple-use forestry. These areas were designed to show how silvicultural management practices could be used as tools to encourage wildlife, plant species diversity and recreation, and to discourage the devastation caused by wildfire.

"How do you evaluate the effectiveness and value of your "demonstration program?" It certainly isn't worth the costs of all our State Forests being roaded, fragmented and timbered. Plus, there are many other, and often better ways to manage for wildlife, species diversity, and recreation, than by silvicultural methods. The law is clear, it states "The purposes are.....the management of state forests for conservation and preservation of wildlife, fish, forest species, natural areas, aesthetic and scenic values, and to provide developed and undeveloped outdoor recreational opportunities, and hunting and fishing for the citizens of the state and its visitors." Only in a separate passage are timber harvesting and demonstration mentioned.

And it worked! Thanks to scientific forestry methods, our State Forests contain some of the most beautiful and productive forest land in the country. Unfortunately, the management which had helped to create the beautiful Kanawha State Forest was stopped by those who lacked the knowledge to understand the dynamics of it in the late 1970's.

For some reason I give credit for the forests creation and existence to other concerns. I feel that it exists at all, despite, not because of, "forest management." Itís taken Kanawha State Forests nearly a century to recover from the past abuses from commercial timbering. Furthermore, it will be a place of greater diversity, beauty, health, recreation, human enjoyment and value to the public if managed for uses other than timber production. The lack of knowledge and understanding is on the part of the WVDOF in not recognizing and carrying out the wishes and desires of the Forestís owners, the public, in creating and executing these plans. Public opinion polls in West Virginia all indicate a vast majority of people feel we should be doing more to protect our stateís forests. In the absence of any political will to acquire additional lands, we need to re-double our efforts to further protect the few lands we have.

Since that time, the WVDOF has had little to do with the Forest. However, because we were "responsible" for itís management, we often received blame for problems there. As an example, easements for gas well roads are handled by the DNRís Public Lands Corporation and yet the WVDOF was criticized for these roads. As another example, the WVDOF was criticized by mountain bikers for requesting time to study the plant communities before Parks and Recreation layed out a proposed bike trail. This study would have allowed the WVDOF to determine if any unique, rare or endangered plants exist in the path of the proposed bike trail, a plan to avoid the destruction of unique plant communities that I am sure your organization would support.

Yes we would.

Now, I am pleased to say the DNR Parks and Recreation section carries full responsibility of caring for this forest area which is already essentially a "State Park.."

So are we.

It was extremely difficult to manage a property for multiple uses, when multiple uses were not allowed.

False. All of the dozens of multiple uses are still allowed except one.

I am pleased that your membership have requested plans so you can see for yourself the true plan and dispel a lot of false rumors and misconceptions.

Any land management plan should begin by first determining the wishes of its owners, not end with it. It is a far cry from "meaningful" public involvement for the WVDOF to send the land owners virtually completed plans and then ask "how do you like it?" Remember, DRAFT plans were requested.

Following are some of these false rumors or misconceptions and the factual truth:

Misconception #1

"Each of the State Forest plans thus far released take for granted that logging will proceed over virtually the entire acreage of the State Forest."

Truth:

Thirty percent (30%), or approximately 20,000 acres of the 70,000 acres on the eight remaining State Forests will be set aside from any harvest.

This is not enough.

These set-aside or reserved areas include improved recreation areas, improved wildlife habitat areas, identified ecologically sensitive areas, riparian buffers, recreation buffers, and remote areas. So far, the four new plans designate only 3,800 acres out of a possible 33,000 acres to be even considered for re-inventory and a multiple-use prescription written. A prescription will include recreational needs, wildlife habitat needs, threatened and endangered species and rare species existence and needs along with any potential harvesting demonstration needs.

Do you keep records of the positive benefits of these demonstration areas?

Misconception #2

"As far as wildlife and recreation are concerned, they show up in the plans as an afterthought, if at all."

Truth:

See Attachment 1 which is part of the Greenbrier Plan as example of uses other than timber.

Your analysis is not sufficient. Data and analysis is needed on recreational uses today and in the future.

Misconception #3

"Thousands of acres (of State Forest) have already been logged."

Truth:

During the Last 30 years, an average of 300 acres of State Forest have been logged each year...

30 x 300 = 9,000

In other words, only 11.5% of the total acreage in 30 years.

Of course these figures are PURE FICTION. For one thing, they conveniently include the 7,600 acres of Coopers Rock State Forest managed by the WVU Division of Forestry, but donít take into account any of the timber harvested there, which is a considerable amount (more on that later).

Misconception #4

"One justification heard more and more often in public statements of State Forest managers is: We need the money! Commercial logging of the forest will generate some cash, which we can use for employee benefits, equipment, etc."

Truth:

The timber value on State Forests is estimated to be in excess of $80,000,000.

Certainly its non-timber value is worth many times this amount.

And yet during the 1999 drought, which held the promise of being one of the worst fire seasons on record, Governor Underwood asked for and received from the legislature special appropriations totaling $750,000 for firefighting, rather than tapping the value of State Forests.

The WVDOF should receive its funding through the appropriation process the same as any other state agency. Our State Forests should not be viewed or used as cash cows. This also doesnít address past WVDOF actions.

The WVDOF 2001 budget includes $150,000, which is to be generated from timber sales. This money will be used for improvements on State Forests and other minor firefighting expenses.

State Forest timber sales should not be used to fund any government functions. The fact that the very agency that decides if and how much timber will be harvested, gets to keep the revenues from those harvests, is indication enough that the management and planning system is less than objective.

Misconception #5

"Over-mature is meaning less in biological and ecological terms. Trees dying is a natural, essential stage in the life cycle of a forest. These trees nurture animals by providing cavities and hollows and the next generation by returning organic matter to the soil."

Truth:

Over-mature does have meaning in the biological and ecological sense when one considers carbon sequestration. There is an optimum age for carbon sequestration by a forest; and once past a certain age, the efficiency of carbon sequestration declines dramatically. [New research indicates this is not as true as previously thought. Ed.] Data indicates growth of the 0-zone [sic], which results in global warming, is a major biological and ecological concern. On another note, returning organic matter to the soil is important, but one must consider the fact that the bole of the tree is removed and all other parts are left to return nutrients to the soil. While the bole may appear to be the largest part of the tree, it only contains 4% of the total nutrients in the tree. Keep in mind that 96% of the carbon nitrates are returned to the soil and thus would not contribute to global warming.

There are numerous reasons to protect natural forests beyond their obvious usefulness as carbon sinks. The true value of old growth and natural forests may be beyond estimate, however, here are some of its values.

CONTROL FOR MANAGEMENT PRACTICES. Aldo Leopold was one of the earliest individuals to point out the value of such places. He said in 1941 "A science of land health needs, first of all, a base datum of normality, a picture of how healthy land maintains itself as an organism." Scientists need control areas as a benchmark in their research for a variety of land management practices.

HISTORIC DATA BASES. Forest and plant ecologists need old growth forests to study such topics as compositional dynamics, forest development, overstory-understory interactions and regeneration mechanisms.

GENETIC DIVERSITY. Old growth forests favor unique combinations of genes, gene pools, and ecotypes. Old-growth forests are valuable for the diversity of life they support. They provide a multitude of safe, secure sites for plants and animals that prefer, or even require, the characteristics of this type of habitat. The association of a wide variety of animals and old-growth forests is based on the high incidence of suitable habitat in the form of large dead trees, decaying logs, and wood-rotting fungi. As an example, many migratory songbirds require a mature, "interior" habitat for nesting. This protects nests from "edge" related predators such as Blue Jays, Crows, and Raccoons. Populations of these songbirds have plummeted in recent years. In 1994 the banding station in West Virginia recorded its 6th worst season in total numbers banded, and 2nd lowest number of species.

HERITAGE. Although not strictly scientific, interactions with old-growth forests dominated the first 200 years of North American history. Quoting Leopold again, "is it not a bit beside the point for us to be so solicitous about preserving Americaís institutions without giving so much thought to preserving the environment which produced them."

ETHICS. We are all members of a community of interdependant parts, a community composed of a wide variety of resources Ė of soil, water, plants and animals. A land ethic cannot prevent the use of these resources. It should, however, "affirm their right to continued existence, and at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state" (Leopold, 1968).

GREENSPACE. As this portion of the country becomes more and more developed, and as city residents find it harder and harder to find natural areas for recreation, our State Forests will increase in recreational value. A recent survey conducted by the real estate industry found, when asking home buyers what they would be willing to pay extra forwhen purchasing a home, that proximity to greenspace was third out of a list of 29, just behind proximity to hiking and biking trails which was 2nd. People seek undisturbed greenspace for the scenic beauty and sense of rejuvenation it provides them. Timber harvests are ugly and dis-heartening, and not how the public wants their State Forest managed.

AESTHETICS. West Virginians, the same as people all over the country, feel natural forests with big old trees are more beautiful than "managed," timbered forests.

Management of old-growth forests requires a whole new way of thinking about resource management. No particular species is favored because of its commercial importance. Uneven aged forest is the desired condition; natural disturbance is expected and desired; trees and other forest life live, grow old, and die in the forest, contributing to the accumulation and recycling of logs, snags, soil litter, and organic matter. Such forests are neither "overmature," nor "decadent." Management of old growth truly differs from other forest management because there is more emphasis on the amount of dead material and the multitude of activities associated with it; the living members take care of themselves. In old-growth forests, the thread of life continues without the manipulations of man for his own ends.

Misconception #6

"We could reduce or end logging in the State Forests with little or no economic impact on the State."

Truth:

Ending harvests on State Forests would have a devastating impact...

Come on, now!

... on the 8,000,000 acres of forest land managed by 250,000 private landowners. State Forests are intended to serve as a demonstration or example of good sound forest management. Suspending demonstration harvests on State Forest would eliminate the example of good forestry that private landowners look to for guidance.

The USDA Forest Service has the world class Fernow Demonstration Forest at Parsons, and West Virginia University has its demonstration Forests too. Additionally, I'd like to see the visitation statistics of those who actually come to see and learn from these demonstration harvests. How do you determine this tremendous value you mention? More likely "demonstration" is just a thinly veiled excuse to "get the cut out."

I hope your organization finds these few facts useful and will help the WVDOF eliminate some of the misconceptions the general public has regarding forestry.

I hope your organization finds these few facts useful and will help the WVHC eliminate some of the misconceptions the Forestry Community has regarding the general public's concern for its State Forests and how they should be managed.

We look forward to receiving your comments on the recently developed forest management plans so your ideas can be given serious consideration and incorporated into the plan.

Once again, after the plans are developed, it's a little late in seeking public input.

Sincerely Charles R. Dye

Director/State Forester

cc: general membership