A Logan County hollow targeted for the largest mountaintop removal coal mine in state history is a "hot spot" for rare and sensitive birds, federal government scientists say in a new report.Arch Coal Inc. wants to strip 3,100 acres along Pigeonroost Branch, near Blair. The company is waiting on a final permit for its proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine.The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says in a new study that "this portion of West Virginia has been recognized as one of the largest areas of contiguous forest remaining in the Northeast."In a December 1998 report made public last week, the Service also found that the region is "a core area for many southern-affinity species of neotropical migrant birds, and ... a ëhot spot' for forest interior bird species of special concern in the Northeast United States.
"Breeding bird surveys conducted between 1984 and 1989 documented the occurrence of 46 forest bird species, of which 22 were forest interior species," the report said."Many of the area-sensitive neotropical migrant forest bird species found in southwestern West Virginia, such as the wood thrush, cerulean warbler, black and white warbler, Acadian flycatcher, and worm-eating warbler, are species of special concern to the Service because of declining populations."The Arch Coal mine would fill most of Pigeonroost Branch and parts of two smaller streams with millions of tons of rock and earth blasted out of the mountains to uncover coal reserves.Lawyers for the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy are trying to stop the mine, or at least force regulators to conduct a more thorough environmental study.Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday on a request for an injunction to halt the operation.Last week, lawyers for the Conservancy and a group of coalfield residents filed a copy of the Fish and Wildlife Service's study with Haden."The forested valleys in the study area appear to support a diverse wildlife community," the report says. "During the field investigations, tracks of white-tailed deer and wild boar and feathers of wild turkey were observed. In addition, gray squirrel, chipmunk, ruffed grouse and several songbirds were either seen or heard by the investigators."If this forest were allowed to mature, more mast would be produced, further enhancing its values for wildlife," it says. "The perennial streams and riparian borders in the valley bottoms add to habitat complexity, and provide a reliable supply of water for wildlife."However, the report concluded, "If the [mountaintop removal mine] is constructed as proposed, and the typical mining revegetation plan is followed after mining, the existing steep, forest interior will be replaced by gently rolling grasslands with small, scattered stands of trees and shrubs."The forested valley habitats enhanced by the perennial streams as a water supply, were found to be capable of supporting high wildlife species diversity," the report said. "This site is not likely to support many of these species, particularly migrant forest interior birds, following mining." To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.