Guild comments on West Virginia State Parks management bills

In February, the Forest Stewards Guild offered comments in the form of a position statement opposing Senate Bill 270/House Bill 4182. The proposed legislation would have revised West Virginia State Parks rules to permit timber production as a forest use and management goal. On February 23, the Bills were officially “dead.” The organizations of the Save Our Parks campaign wrote to formally acknowledge and thank the Guild. Matt Kearns of West Virginians for Public Lands stated that "When this legislation first emerged, it seemed likely to steamroll through the legislature. It was only through the incredible outpouring from the public and the partnership of experts like the Guild that we were able to bring the bill to staggering halt."

West Virginians spoke loud and clear in opposition to these Bills. One Senator shared that he had received more citizen opposition to this bill than any other this session. Angie Rosser, executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said “It reinforced that the preservation of our state parks is very personal for many people.” “West Virginians of all backgrounds and political views came together to take a stand for our shared love of our state and our mountains. Our public land is literally our common ground,” said Chad Cordell of Kanawha Forest Coalition.

The wild side that is clearly part of lands that have been “set aside” in West Virginia, is a main part of the drive to protect these areas from commercial logging. These types of lands are rare, and needed not only for people, but for all the life they sustain and processes we depend upon. Another strong connection to the land, that people express when they are called upon to protect it, is fostered by recreation. Whether it is quiet hiking, birdwatching, skiing, biking or one of countless other opportunities offered by time in nature, people are clear that their chance to refresh, refocus, revive, and recreate depends on the ability to enter places where the fast pace of life cannot reach them.

For the Forest Stewards Guild’s part, it was important to recognize and protect these protected lands for the benefit of people as well as the forests. The most problematic parts of the proposed legislation from the Guild’s perspective were the disregard for already-established key purposes of West Virginia State Parks, as described in the 1931 Code of West Virginia, the lack of public and stakeholder engagement or input as the Bills were developed, and the lack of connection between the legislation and any West Virginia State Park management goals or deliberate, thoughtful stewardship planning, involving consideration of all of the impacts and benefits at stake or on offer.

Though the Bills included a purpose of financing deferred maintenance on the West Virginia State Parks, property managers, recreationists, politicians, environmental advocates, and economists alike agree that there are better, more sustainable ways to fund such projects and that the lands deserve a thorough process that weighs the options and needs against potential, or in this case, inevitable loss.

“Logging” is not a dirty word. Neither is “wilderness.” The problem lives when we fail to see between the lines and realize that healthy, sustaining forests and healthy, thriving communities mostly need something in the middle. It starts with learning from the forest, or “putting the forest first,” before making decisions. It involves as many minds as possible on the matter, to protect the good of all. This is especially true on public lands.

West Virginians For Public Lands has posted a photo documentary of Watoga State Park, wherein Doug Wood illustrates the age, diversity, and wild assets of of public lands that were at stake with these proposed Bills. Photos within the content of this article are found on wvrivers.org. The landscape images are by Kent Mason.