CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Justice Administration and the Division of Natural Resources are taking fire over Senate Bill 270. The measure would allow for strictly regulated commercial logging on certain West Virginia State Park lands. DNR Director Steve McDaniel defended the bill as an enhancement of the parks, not a detriment.

“The bill is going to allow for sound, sustainable timber management in our parks,” said McDaniel on MetroNews’ West Virginia Outdoors. “Today we have 81,000 acres of forest in our state parks. This bill, in its form, would only allow for select cut timber management in a small portion of that–less than 25 percent. It would be contained to a half dozen or so of the largest parks.”

Those parks are not identified in legislation, but based on McDaniel’s assessment, the parks which would be open to the limited commercial cuts are Watoga, Cacapon, Lost River, Holly River, Twin Falls, and Cedar Creek.

Despite the insistence of McDaniel and the governor timbering will help the State Park lands, many remain unconvinced. Several environmental and conservation organizations have banded together to fight the bill. These groups include the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, Friends of Blackwater, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, West Virginia Environmental Council, Kanawha Forest Coalition, West Virginia Scenic Trails Association, Mountain Lakes Preservation Association and West Virginians for Public Lands. Those organizations have formed the “Save our Parks Campaign.”

“You don’t save a forest by cutting it down,” said Jim Kotcon, President of the West Virginia Sierra Club.

The Kanawha Forest Coalition’s President Jim Waggy is also among those who is furious about the idea.

“We stand to degrade our ‘Wild and Wonderful’ brand and make people think twice about visiting our state parks,” Waggy told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “They come here for the beauty of the forests and outdoor recreation, not to hear chainsaws and dodge logging trucks.”

But McDaniel steadfastly defended the idea, offering the bill places stringent limitations on the amount of timber which can be cut and strictly regulates where it can happen. It also must include input from several individuals within the state parks as well as the Division of Forestry.

Language of the bill would limit a timber harvest harvest to, “…the average of four trees per acre per tract nor more than one half of the merchantable timber volume of the acre. Only trees with a circumference of at least sixteen inches based on the diameter at breast height, may be harvested.” That’s the prescription according to language from the bill.

“The four trees per acre is an aggregate over the overall tract selected,” McDaniel said. “But the important thing to remember is no more than 50 percent of the marketable timber volume can be cut.”

McDaniel and the Justice Administration contend strict timber management is actually a way to enhance the parks’ bio-diversity rather than destroy it.

“in old growth timber, you do see some wildlife, but you don’t see everything West Virginia has to offer,” McDaniel reasoned. “We need to diversify the habitat for wildlife in our State Parks.”

A survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016 claimed 85 Million Americans went somewhere to view wildlife. The Justice Administration believed a lot of those could be attracted to West Virginia to view wildlife, if the forest growth is diversified by limited logging and is able to sustain more wildlife species.

But critics abound. Many members of the the “Save Our Parks” coalition are adamant the chain saw has no place in a West Virginia State Park….period.

“I hear them. We want to make sure what we are doing we are doing right,” McDaniel said. “But the 800 pound gorilla in the room is $50 Million in infrastructure needs we have in the state parks. We want to sell a bond here to pay for some of that and this is one of many sources of revenue to help pay for that bond.”

The legislation faces the grist of the legislative session ahead. All indications are a gauntlet awaits.

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