CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Nearly 19,000 acres of forest lands in West Virginia’s northwestern counties will soon become public lands for hunting and wildlife recreation.
The Conservation Fund announced the acquisition of 18,778 acres in Wirt, Wood, Jackson, Calhoun, Pleasants, Ritchie and Doddridge Counties. The lands were made available through the organizations’ Working Forest Fund.” The Conservation Fund will hold onto the property and eventually transfer it to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources in phases as money becomes available to buy it through the Pittman-Robertson Act, in which excise taxes paid on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment are dedicated toward the purchase of hunting lands across the country. License dollars and mitigation dollars from pipeline construction in West Virginia along with donated funds are also being used to seal the purchase.
Once fully deeded to the state, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources intends to create five new Wildlife Management Areas from the property and expand four existing Wildlife Management Areas along with part of North Bend State Park. Those WMA’s to be expanded include Frozen Camp WMA, Ritchie Mines WMA, Sand Hill WMA, and Hughes River WMA.
“We’re proud to partner with the WVDNR in this ongoing effort to conserve important wildlife habitat and permanently protect these lands as new and expanded WMAs and a State Park addition, which will deliver both economic and environmental benefits for local communities in an area of the state lacking in public lands,” said Joe Hankins, Vice President for The Conservation Fund. “Endeavors like this wouldn’t be possible without a long-term vision for public access and conservation, as well as creativity, good timing and collaborations between state, federal and private partners.”
“Working collaboratively and in partnership with The Conservation Fund, Governor Justice, local communities and the energy sector, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources now has the opportunity to expand its public land base and provide enhanced opportunities for wildlife-associated recreation,” said WVDNR Director Stephen McDaniel. “These lands will be managed to enhance essential wildlife habitat for a variety of forestland species. Hunters, anglers and others interested in wildlife will directly benefit from these conservation efforts.”
The acquired lands feature interior woodland habitat and intact forested watersheds which will provide essential habitat for a variety of endangered and threatened bird, bat and mussel species. This conservation effort is complimented by the WVDNR’s recent acquisition of 12,440 acres in Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie and Wirt Counties made possible, in part, by funding and technical assistance made available for habitat impacts anticipated to arise through construction of the Mountaineer XPress Project, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and the Supply Header Project in partnership with the WVDNR and The Conservation Fund.
The first transfer of land is expected to happen in the first quarter of 2019. The Conservation Fund has been active in such projects before. The fund was instrumental in acquiring the 32,000 acres which make up the Earl Ray Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan County which was created for the expressed purpose of the reintroduction of elk into West Virginia.