We West Virginians are blessed with some of the most beautiful, ecologically significant forests, fields and streams in the United States. Preserving them for future generations has been accepted by many of us as both a responsibility and a privilege.
As private landowners and in cooperation with organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, Mountain State residents have saved thousands of acres of precious, irreplacable places during the past few decades. But we cannot accomplish all that needs to be done without help.
Federal government conservation programs have provided some of the aid we need - but they, like some of our natural heritage, are in jeopardy. Mountains of national debt and rivers of deficit spending are being cited by some in Congress as reasons to slash spending on conservation programs.
One proposal in the House of Representatives would, in essence, clear-cut conservation spending. It would reduce appropriations for the Land and Water Conservation Fund by about 86 percent. The fund supports a variety of programs to protect endangered species and safeguard places that are important for their beauty as well as for environmental reasons.
If budget cuts at proposed levels are enacted, protection for hundreds of wild places, rare plants and endangered animals will no longer be possible. Some of them are in West Virginia.
For example, proposed cuts would eliminate a land acquisition program in the New River Gorge. They could end a program, in cooperation with the state Division of Forestry, to conserve forestland along the South Branch of the Potomac River. Even existing projects such as that in the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge could be affected.
We understand the need to reduce government spending drastically. But slashing conservation spending is not the answer. It is a relatively miniscule percentage of the federal budget - and it is more than making an "investment." Without it, as we Mountain State residents are painfully aware, some irreplacable jewels of the natural world will disappear - forever.
We urge members of our state's delegation in Congress to take the lead in preventing that - remembering that our state's natural beauty has become a critical economic development tool. We are "Wild, Wonderful West Virginia" - and we need to do all in our power to conserve the natural treasures that make us so.