CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Opponents of a proposal pending at the State House to allow limited commercial logging in select West Virginia State Parks, organizing under the Save Our State Parks name, are turning their attention now to the lobbying of state lawmakers.
Matt Kearns with West Virginians for Public Lands said they came away from a Thursday meeting with Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher “disappointed” that, in their view, he seemed unwilling to abandon the logging bill in favor of alternative funding ideas.
“I think the public is behind us on this one,” Kearns said. “I think that we’ve got a lot of other ways that can raise money.”
SB 270 would permit logging in State Parks to fund a parks bond.
State officials have said there’s more than $50 million in deferred maintenance projects at State Park facilities.
Those with the SOS Parks groups have come up with 19 other potential funding sources beyond logging, eight of which, Kearns said, they presented to Thrasher.
Among the proposals were increased purchase card rebate amounts, the creation of a State Park pass for out-of-state visitors, a resort/cabin/campground surcharge, a rental car surcharge or a State Parks specialty license plate.
The full list of proposals is available HERE.
On Friday, a request for comment was out to the state Department of Commerce.
Along with West Virginians for Public Lands, the groups involved in the SOS Parks initiative included the following:
Christians for the Mountains
Eight Rivers Council
Friends of Blackwater
Friends of the Cheat
Kanawha Forest Coalition
Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance
Sierra Club, West Virginia chapter
West Virginia Environmental Council
West Virginia Highlands Conservancy
West Virginia Rivers Coalition
West Virginia Wilderness Coalition
West Virginia Scenic Trails Association
Earlier this week, Kent Leonhardt, West Virginia agriculture commissioner, announced his opposition to the proposal.
“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,” Leonhardt said during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”
“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.”
Kearns said Leonhardt “gets it.” “He said all the right things. There really isn’t a well thought plan for this,” he said.
On Wednesday, Barry Cook, director of the West Virginia Division of Forestry, said the logging was necessary for park forest health and other reasons.
“There literally has been no harvest or management in these parks for years,” Cook said. “They’re overcrowded, the trees are over-mature and by selectively harvesting we can remove the diseased and dying trees and at the same time expand the park footprint.”
Kearns said those kinds of arguments ignored a major factor.
“We can talk about economics, we can talk about forest health, but it’s also a values thing and we have a responsibility to pass these State Parks on to the future generations in the way that we got them from those who came before us,” Kearns told MetroNews.