OPINION: Don’t Freak Out, Limited Cutting in State Parks is a Necessary Thing

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PHOTO: Beartown State Park, Courtesy of West Virginia State Parks
PHOTO: Beartown State Park, Courtesy of West Virginia State Parks

Written by Jeremy Farley

Over the last few days, there has been considerable debate throughout the Mountain State concerning Senate Bill 270, a bipartisan bill sponsored by the senate’s Republican President and co-sponsored by the Democratic Senate Minority Leader. The bill would authorize the state park system to implement a forest management plan that would allow for very limited commercial logging in West Virginia State Parks. According to the bill’s patrons, the proceeds would be used to help cover the immense overhead associated with operating and maintaining West Virginia’s 37 state parks.

Allow me to admit that when I first heard that the state was considering authorizing commercial logging in its parks, my knee-jerk reaction was to scream at the T.V. and take to social media – after all, no state has experienced the heartache that accompanies unregulated deforestation quite like West Virginia; roughly a century ago, the state’s virgin forests had been ransacked and it was jokingly stated that not a single tree had been left standing in the entire state shortly after the turn of the century.

However, once I began to study the proposed bill in greater detail, I quickly realized that this, in my opinion, is not only a good move for West Virginia State Parks, but frankly, it’s a necessary move.

Far from clear-cutting entire forests as my conspiracy-prone mind had me imagining, the bill would actually allow no more than four trees per acre to be cut and would be banned from areas in parks that are easily accessible.

For too many years, the state’s laws have prevented state parks officials from adequately addressing the needs of the forests under the care of the state, often resulting in overgrown areas that are choking off growth and thereby decreasing the amount of wildlife in West Virginia State Parks.  This bill would allow park superintendents on the ground as well as state foresters and land overseers, the men and women who cherish these lands more than any of us, the tools to adequately do their job — a move that will reduce the risk of widespread destruction from forest fires and various forms of tree diseases.

The result of this bill would be additional hiking trails, enabling visitors and residents of the Mountain State even more opportunities to enjoy the pristine beauty of those majestic and grand West Virginia hills.

As the governor recently stated, “For years these lands have been undermanaged and we just can’t continue to operate that way. This is a conservation effort designed to restore and improve the health of our state park lands. Those who are claiming anything else just don’t know what they are talking about. Again, these efforts will substantially increase all wildlife species…

“If we don’t [do a better job managing these forest lands within our State Parks], wildlife species will continue to decline, substantially. The trees won’t bear fruit, the wildlife will die a brutal death or leave to find food in other locations, there will be few birds, and the potential for wildfires to ravage these areas increases dramatically.”

Part of proper forest management means that from time to time certain trees need to be brought down and this bill would allow the state to do just that in a manner that is both profitable and respectful.

What a very selective cut DOES for our parks:
* Significantly increases wildlife
* Lessens the chance of wildfires
* Creates more accessibility for our visitors
* Reduces Disease and Insect infiltration
* Brings in revenue to improve all aspects of our parks

What a very selective cut DOES NOT do for our parks:
* Take away any of the pristine look at the parks
* Allow clear cutting
* Allow for more than 4 trees to be cut per acre
* Allow for cutting in areas that are currently being used or are easily accessible

If you were like I was when you first heard about this bill and ready to tear down the doors of the Capitol Building, I would encourage you to give the bill a second thought and do a little research on your own… For the sake of our forest!

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