West Virginia’s forests are one of our greatest natural assets and drivers. They are the home to West Virginia’s beauty, culture and economy. They have driven the way we live, influencing our lives as outdoorsmen and women, and they have kept us proudly connected to the land.
They have provided for our well-being by giving us clean water, clean air and the forest and tourism industry jobs that provide income for many of West Virginia’s working families.
And The Nature Conservancy’s science shows our forests to be some of the most important in North America for the carbon they store, the water they provide and the habitats they create for a rich diversity of plants and animals. This makes them crucial natural strongholds for not only West Virginia, but also for the nation and the globe.
We haven’t always treated our forests well. Any student of West Virginia history knows of the rush to exploit our vast untouched forests to feed a nation hungered with expansive development in the 19th and early 20th centuries. This period of big cuts had profound effects, and we learned the consequences to our natural environment — and subsequently to our own well-being.
We also learned the consequences the boom and bust cycles of unsustainable harvests could have on our economies and personal job security.
But those days are behind us, and our forests have regenerated. West Virginia is now the third most forested state in the nation. And we have come a long way in learning that forestry can have tremendous positive benefits when practiced correctly in the correct places, using science for managing and restoring our forests with our well-being and the well-being of our natural environment and our economy as our correlated outcomes.
We must think in new ways to really take advantage of how forestry can meet these goals, and we must move beyond the rhetoric of “get out the cut” or “leave it all alone” to look at where we can apply forestry as a tool to get all the correlated outcomes above.
Science exists to guide this discussion. The Nature Conservancy has put much of it together, identifying the last great places of irreplaceable habitats and the most resilient and connected lands across the Appalachians.
This science, combined with a common-sense approach, can help us identify where best to use forestry as a tool to enhance nature and economy outcomes that can lead us to a balanced way forward to a bright future for the state. We believe there is path to restore and enhance our forests while producing forest products that can create the revenues we need to feed our families and carry out the work of our institutions.
Now is the time to reflect hard on this new understanding. West Virginia is surging forward in its thinking on how best to diversify its economy.
We now know that, in certain places, forest management practices can be the best tools for enhancing forest condition and function while also producing additional revenue streams from timber, forest products and carbon credits.
This new way of thinking is exemplified by The Nature Conservancy’s Working Woodlands Program. In several surrounding states, The Nature Conservancy is working with private landowners to put conservation easements on their lands, which allow for timbering and forestry practices that enhance forest conditions for holding and sequestering carbon.
This program keeps forests as forests and incorporates science to deliver enhanced forest management for better habitat and carbon sequestration goals and income in the form of revenue for forest owners, better forest conditions, long-term conservation and carbon offsets to address climate change. Working Woodlands does all of this while helping to maintain the state’s forest industry.
There are models out there that can work well for West Virginia and its forest land owners, and The Nature Conservancy and others are working hard to bring these concepts home to the Mountain State.
West Virginia is in a new era where we can set our goals to reach all potential outcomes from our forests — timber, forest products, jobs, highly functioning ecosystems with abundant nature, capturing and holding forest carbon, maintaining our connection to the land, keeping our long and green views.
We have the science and new tools, like working forest easements, to ensure we can meet these goals while continuing to nourish the land on which so many West Virginians depend now and for generations to come.