Don’t Open W.Va. Parks to Logging

Most of the old growth forests in the United States have been logged long ago. West Virginia’s virgin forests succumbed to the ax starting in the 1880s. A few photographs are all that remain of the giant trees, some over 45 feet in circumference, that once covered the hillsides of the state.

Roy Clarkson’s book, “Tumult on the Mountain,” contains some of these old photographs. Millions of trees were harvested with little regard to the ecosystems that these trees supported. In less than 40 years, the logging companies left the state with nothing but denuded slopes covered with stumps and mud.

According to the World Resource Institute, less than one percent of “large contiguous virgin forests with all species intact,” still exist in the lower 48 states. Forested ecosystems are much more than just trees and far more valuable to us than the wood that loggers obtain from them.

West Virginia’s forests were able to recover from the initial assault, but they will never be the same magnificent virgin forests of centuries ago. These ecosystems are still extremely valuable, not because of the timber they supply, but for the services they provide. These ecosystems provide flood control, stabilize fresh water supplies, protect diversity, offer recreation, bring in tourism, supply non-timber forest products, and act as a carbon sink for carbon dioxide emissions.

Wisely, back in 1925, the state recognized a need to protect lands worthy of conservation and established the West Virginia State Forest, Park and Conservation Commission. West Virginia’s first state park was Droop Mountain Battlefield in Pocahontas County. There are currently 37 state parks under the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

Recently, Senate Bill 270 was introduced in the West Virginia Legislature at the request of Governor Justice. This bill would end an 80-year ban on logging in West Virginia’s state parks. The bill is a being presented as a way to pay for park maintenance.

These parks have not been open to the logging industry since 1931, but if Senate Bill 270 becomes law, pristine areas such as the old growth hemlock in Cathedral State Park could become a destination for logging equipment rather than a destination for tourists.

Although my family tree has roots in West Virginia, I do not live in the state. However, my family and I have taken countless trips throughout the state over the past 30 years. Most of my doctoral research surrounding ginseng and other non-timber forest products was conducted in southern West Virginia. I have hiked and camped in many of the parks now on the list as being potentially “open to timbering.”

There is no way to describe the beauty of West Virginia’s parks. One has to experience them first hand. Once you see a mist rolling across a forested slope after a summer rain, you’ll know why the phase “Almost Heaven, West Virginia” is so appropriate.

There are other ways to finance the maintenance of parks, ways that will keep these valuable assets protected. One way enlists trees as a tool to capture and contain carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon credits from trees are then traded on a carbon market. The city of Astoria, Ore., has sold more than 260,000 carbon credits in its carbon offset project. During the 40 years that the city protects the forest, they will receive around $2 million in revenues.

Appalachia’s forests are already being destroyed by mountain top coal removal and the expansion of oil and gas development across the region. Thousands of acres of forested land are cleared to construct drill pads and pipelines. This leaves ecosystems fragmented, introduces invasive species, contaminates mountain springs, and destroys the beauty of the region.

It is imperative that we not let our little pockets of heaven, our state parks, become another victim of ill-informed laws. We must stand up to keep our forests standing. Just say NO to SB 270.

Randi Jeannine Pokladnik

Uhrichsville, Ohio