The West Virginia Agriculture commissioner came out Tuesday against a bill that would allow commercial logging in state parks to provide money to operate and maintain the parks.
Commissioner Kent Leonhardt issued a news release stating his opposition to Senate Bill 270, which was sponsored by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion.
“The Governor and Legislature should kill Senate Bill 270,” Leonhardt, a Republican, wrote. “The initiative set within the legislation is poorly thought-out with little foresight. There are better alternatives to fund the repairs our state parks desperately need. The payoff from harvesting timber within the parks will do more harm than good in the long run.”
The bill came at the request of Gov. Jim Justice.
Specifically, the legislation would allow the Division of Natural Resources to sell timber from the state parks, in consultation with the relevant state park superintendent and the director of the Division of Forestry.
The legislation states that the timber would come from tracts of land not generally utilized by the public.
However, the timber may be sold only as “part of a sound silvicultural plan,” per the bill text. Under the proposal, only four trees per acre may be harvested, and that harvest may not exceed one half of the merchantable timber volume of the acre. Additionally, trees must have a circumference of at least 16 inches to warrant harvesting.
Leonhardt said the legislation is too much too fast.
“My biggest concern is, this legislation will negatively affect park visitors and the tourism industry,” Leonhardt said. “We need to examine all alternative options and formulate a common-sense plan before stepping off this cliff.
“The West Virginia Department of Agriculture stands ready to assist the DNR in any way possible. We already have a great working relationship, when it comes to managing forest health issues. This is too valuable of a natural resource not to take the proper time to develop a well thought-out plan.”
Along with Leonhardt, a cohort of conservation groups was formed last week to run a campaign against the bill, which is pending review by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources.
Committee Chairman Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, said he has been assured by the two divisions that the changes would not be noticed by state park visitors.
“I am a protector of public lands, and I want them to be there for generations to come, and I want the beauty of the forests, but I’ve been assured by the Department [sic] of Natural Resources and the Division of Forestry that nothing will be done to harm what you see when you’re enjoying the state park. It’s going to be off the footprint,” Maynard said.
He said that, while he has not heard of any amendments pending from committee members, he would expect to see some. Maynard added that he did not know when the bill would run but, because it’s an executive bill, it should come up on the agenda during this legislative session.