On Jan. 18 of this year, West Virginia Legislature’s Speaker of the House Tim Armstead and Delegate Tim Miley introduced a bill (Senate Bill 270/House Bill 4182) to the WV Legislature that proposed “to implement a sound silvicultural management plan for state park lands, which may include the harvesting and sale of timber; providing requirements for the sale of timber located on state park lands; providing requirements for the deposit and expenditure of proceeds; and authorizing emergency rule-making authority.” In short, the bill would allow for trees to be harvested on state park lands in order to raise money for the parks.
In response to the proposed bill, conservation grounds starting banding together to oppose the bill’s passage. The director of the Department of Natural Resources, Steve McDaniel, as well as Division of Forestry Director Barry Cook both defended the bill, saying that the commercial logging was necessary due to overcrowding and over maturing of timber in state parks. Governor Jim Justice released a statement in January stating, “The facts are we need to do a better job managing these forest lands within our state parks. If we don’t, wildlife species will continue to decline, substantially. The trees won’t bear fruit, the wildlife will die a brutal death or leave to find food in other locations, there will be few birds, and the potential for wildfires to ravage these areas increases dramatically.”
However, even though the bill says that the timber harvested would be “the average of four trees per acre per tract nor more than one half of the merchantable timber volume of the acre. Only trees with a circumference of at least 16 inches based on the diameter at breast height, may be harvested,” members of the Save Our State Parks campaign argue that you cannot save a forest by cutting it down and adding logging roads. Save Our State Parks is a group made up of nine different conservation agencies who fought against the passage of the bill. According to West Virginia for Public Lands, an organization that’s a part of Save Our State Parks, “A tract is defined in the bill to include ‘any area of a state park not generally utilized by the public and designated as eligible for harvesting.’ The limited protections offered in SB 270 are poorly defined and ill-conceived. Does the four-trees-per-acre average include trees lost to logging road and landing construction? Is it an annual limit or a lifetime limit? What does ‘generally not used by the public’ mean in the definition for a tract eligible for logging? Does the presence of hiking trails indicate public use and protect those areas from logging?”
The strong opposition to the original bill led to the proposal of a substitute bill on Feb. 12. The substitute committee for SB 270 would still allow for commercial logging, but just in Watoga State Park during a three-year pilot program. The Watoga State Park Foundation President John Goodwin released a letter expressing the foundations disagreements with the bill. According to the letter, “The bill fails to consider the following important goals: protecting viewsheds, minimizing road construction, requiring reclamation of roads, following best management practices to minimize impact to streams, cutting to promote regeneration of desired species of trees, cutting to provide wildlife habitat, and having public input on the plan or future cuts. The bill has no sunset component.”
As far as the financial aspect goes, he continues, “Our state parks, including Watoga, are costly. But they should not be required to be totally self-sufficient financially. Timbering Watoga would set a precedent for chipping away the very essence of Watoga. Watoga and other state parks offer West Virginians opportunities that they cannot get elsewhere – to see and experience natural beauty, to learn about nature, and to enjoy the great outdoors.”
At the end of February, the bill was not brought out of the Senate Natural resources Committee, a move that effectively killed the bill. The bill must have been acted on by either the House of Senate before another chamber could act on it. Senator Mike Woelfel said in a statement after the bill’s death that, “In the end, spirited and effective citizen opposition via petition, email, telephone, and personal contact with legislators carried the day. Liquidation of the forests that make West Virginia’s parks unique would have been a grave mistake. It’s amazing what good can occur when citizens engage and actively participate in the legislative process.” This means that state parks are safe from commercial logging, at least for now, unless the process starts again with another bill proposal during the next legislative session.