The same day the West Virginia Statehouse opened its doors to visitors for Tourism Day at the Legislature, a Senate committee heard remarks about a bill critics say will hinder state tourism.
Senate Bill 270 would authorize the Division of Natural Resources to log in state parks and sell the timber to pay for maintenance work. A new committee substitute limits the bill to Watoga State Park, a 10,000-acre state park in Pocahontas County, as a pilot program. The logging is limited to four trees per acre, and proceeds would go to the treasurer and be credited to the Division of Natural Resources.
The Senate’s Natural Resources Committee heard remarks about the bill Monday afternoon but didn’t vote on the bill.
The bill was introduced at the request of Gov. Jim Justice and would lift a ban on state park timbering implemented in 1931, and would improve forest health and recreational activities in the park, proponents of the bill say.
“It’s not about the money,” said Steven McDaniel, director of the Division of Natural Resources. “It’s never been about the money.”
The bill gives West Virginia a chance to try something new, Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher said. If the pilot program goes well, it can expand.
“It gives you the opportunity to educate yourself,” he said.
The committee substitute doesn’t make the bill any more palatable, said Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonardt, who has publicly opposed the bill and spoke against it Monday afternoon. His department should have been consulted about the bill, he said.
“Our parks are in dire need of repairs and improvements, but we need to explore all other avenues first,” he said. “Once the trees are cut, it is simply too late to repair any unseen consequences.”
There’s no part of the state park that’s not being used where logging wouldn’t be conspicuous, said Kenneth Caplinger, who worked as assistant superintendent of Watoga State Park for five years.
Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, who sits on the committee, asked Caplinger what the face of Watoga State Park would look like to out-of-state tourists if this bill were to pass.
“It would not be appealing at all,” Caplinger responded.
Committee Chairman Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, said he sees “pros and cons” in the bill, and doesn’t know where it would go next.
“We’re in limbo,” he said.