A bill introduced Monday that would allow commercial logging in West Virginia’s state parks as a way to pay for the park system’s backlogged maintenance work has prompted nine conservation groups to form a coalition opposing the bill’s passage.
Senate Bill 270, sponsored by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, and introduced at the request of Gov. Jim Justice, would lift a ban on state park timbering that has been in effect since 1931.
The bill would authorize the director of the Division of Natural Resources to implement a forest management plan for state park land that “may include the harvesting and sale of timber” and includes requirements for such timber sales and the expenditure of proceeds from them.
Certain forest land “not generally utilized by the public” in state parks would be designated as eligible for harvesting, pursuant to management provisions, according to the text of the bill. Timber would be sold through competitive bidding, but successful bidders would have to pay at least the appraised value of the timber.
The DNR director may authorize the sale of timber on state park land “only as part of a sound silvicultural management plan” drafted by the DNR director, the superintendent of the state park holding the timber sale and the director of the state Division of Forestry, according to the text of the bill.
Any state park timber sale would not exceed an average of four trees per acre per tract to be harvested and would not involve more than one-half of the marketable timber volume per acre. Only trees with a diameter of at least 16 inches would be harvested.
Proceeds from such timber sales would be paid to the state Treasurer and credited to the DNR, to be spent “exclusively for the purposes of maintaining, improving and operating state parks.”
“Our state park system is in distress,” said Jim Waggy, of the Kanawha Forest Coalition, one of the groups opposing the bill. But opening the parks up to logging “is worse than any maintenance backlog,” he said.
“We stand to degrade our ‘Wild and Wonderful’ brand and make people think twice about visiting our state parks,” Waggy said. “They come here for the beauty of the forests and outdoor recreation, not to hear chainsaws and dodge logging trucks.”
“You don’t save a forest by cutting it down,” said Jim Kotcon, of the West Virginia Sierra Club, in response to a comment by Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher that logging could improve forest health in state parks.
“West Virginia’s state parks were founded in the 1920s, after we realized the havoc logging could do to our forests,” Kotcon said. “The mature forests we enjoy in our parks today are there because of the foresight of those who came before us. Let us hope the governor will have the foresight to find other solutions.”
“We agree with the governor that our state park system could use more funding,” Angie Rosser, of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition said, but opening the parks to logging “is not the way to go about it.
“We look forward to discussing other ways to revive our state parks that preserve their unique attractions, such as rare old-growth forests.”
A coalition of conservation groups has formed a “Save Our State Parks” campaign in response to the bill. Member groups include the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, Friends of Blackwater, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, West Virginia Environmental Council, Kanawha Forest Coalition, West Virginia Scenic Trails Association, Mountain Lakes Preservation Association and West Virginians for Public Lands.