CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Those opposed to a proposal to allow for commercial timber harvests of certain West Virginia State Parks now have a rather powerful ally they may not have expected. West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt on Tuesday announced his opposition to Senate Bill 270.

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A stand of trees at Lost River State Park.

“Our State Parks were given to us as a gift to show old growth timber and the natural selection of the species in the state,” said Leonhardt. “We’re trying to attract young people to our state, and young people want those outdoor activities. They want to be able to hike in mature forests and see the life there.”

Leonhardt admitted during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline” he wasn’t the typical foot soldier in the fight against a logging job, but to him the plan didn’t make sense.

“We’re harvesting in the state forests, but we’re not even maximizing the harvest in the state forests and wildlife management areas,” he explained. “I understand we’re doing an accelerated harvest, but until we’ve reached that accelerated harvest why are we looking into the State Parks for more trees?”

He also questioned the limitations on logging included in the bill. The measure would cap the harvest at four trees per acre and disallow any harvest of more than 50 percent of the marketable timber from a single tract.

“What logger is going to give you the maximum dollar per board foot if he can’t maximize the harvest in that area?” Leonhardt questioned. “I don’t think there’s been an inventory of the trees, I don’t think there’s a solid plan. It’s obvious there is no plan.”

Division of Natural Resources Director Steve McDaniel defended the plan, saying select cuts of timber on limited tracts of State Park property would actually enhance the wildlife habitat. Leonhardt even raised questions there.  He claimed the old growth habitat, found in some West Virginia State Parks,  was necessary to attract many species including some birds which are attractive to bird watchers.

The legislation would allow for the use of revenue from the logging to help fund part of more than $50 Million in deferred maintenance projects on State Park facilities. Leonhardt suggested there is plenty of revenue on other logging jobs to pay the park maintenance.

“Under state code when we harvest in the state forests, all the money goes to the Division of Forestry. That’s great and it doesn’t use general revenue,” said Leonhardt. “But Director Cook talked about getting up to $20 Million. That’s way more than the Division of Forestry needs. Some of those dollars could be directed to the State Parks by legislation for the rehabbing of the facilities.”

Leonhardt said he had sent a letter to Governor Jim Justice in hopes of having a discussion about the idea, but so far hadn’t received a response.

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