Lots to manage.
How the U.S. Forest Service treats public lands takes on
new significance once the breadth of its managerial mandate
is realized. The agency administers 155 national
forests containing roughly 370,000 square miles which
compose one-tenth of the landmass of the United States.
Presently these forests produce 4 percent of
the nation's softwood lumber, dramatically down from one-quarter
in years past. In the 1990s national forest timber
production dropped to 3.8 billion board feet from more than
11 billion board feet.
In correspondence with these
trends, recreational use of national forests has mushroomed
in recent years, so much so that people made three times
as many visits to national forests in 1997 as were made
to national parks. The Forest Service has taken notice
and has dedicated about three-quarters of agency jobs to
recreation related matters as compared to a mere 3 percent
for logging. One Mon recreational web site is: http://gorp.com/...
Then click on "Information provided by Gorp."
When Mike Dombeck in 1997 took
charge of the Forest Service, he inherited an agency noted
for its bloated staff, inefficiency, financial sloppiness,
and kowtowing to the timber industry. He turned around the
Forest Service. An analysis of his performance appears
in the June 13, 1999, edition of The New York Times
Magazine. One of the disclosures that sprang
from reassessed bookkeeping was the fact that the
agency had lost tens of millions of dollars annually on
logging operations. So the current focus on
recreation instead of logging makes sense and saves money. However,
with the departure of Dombeck and the Bush regime in control,
the regulatory horizon is darker.
Jobs. As the push from
some quarters in Appalachia continues for more timber related
jobs, government regulators are pulled in two potentially
conflicting directions: cutting more timber and
preserving our splendid mixed mesophytic forests. Timber
production is equated with more jobs, particularly in rural
counties, making timber production a pocketbook issue.
Tourism growth. Another
pocketbook issue, an ever-increasingly important one at
that, is the growth of tourism based upon West
Virginia's scenic beauty. No great stretch of the
imagination is required to appreciate that rapidly expanding
timber production and maintaining scenic beauty may be at
In the 1990s prominent scenic
areas faced serious threats of timbering or spoilation:
near Cooper's Rock and near Blackwater Canyon. The state
(at Governor Caperton's behest) protected the scenic view
at Cooper's Rock through the power of the purse. Timbering
of a large tract in the Blackwater Canyon started in 1998.
Much of the timber was cut although a small portion was
set aside and bought for preservation. A movement exists
to give the area nationally protected status. For
current Blackwater Canyon news you can access http://www.wvhighlands.org/
Recreational use of forested
lands takes various forms. Hiking
is popular and so is mountain biking.
The up-to-date classic is Allen de Hart's Hiking the
Mountain State which can be purchased from the West
Virginia Highlands Conservancy. According to the American
Hiking Society West Virginia has the potential to be a hiking
mecca for the East Coast. National interest in hiking
continues to grow among all age groups.
Of course the Appalachian
Trail, headquartered at Harper's Ferry, cuts through
the Eastern Panhandle. The proposed 6,000-mile American
Discovery Trail, stretching from Delaware to California,
passes through north-central West Virginia. The state's
segment starts at Green Spring in Hampshire County, dipping
southward into Dolly Sods and Canaan Valley, then westward
toward Parkersburg where it exits the state.
Nature Conservancy has been the leader internationally,
nationally, and in West Virginia, at preserving natural
sites by purchasing them.. The Nature Conservancy
practices an effective, low-key, non-confrontational approach
to conservation that is attractive to a wide segment of
In West Virginia the Nature
Conservancy's focus has been in the eastern half of the
state. There many sites exist with unique or uncommon species
of plants and animals or have unusual characteristics worth
North Fork Mountain, for
example. The 70,000-acre upper Shavers Fork watershed containing
with the highest large stream in eastern North America.
Blister Swamp which is the highest large wetland on limestone
known in the easter U.S. The list goes on.
The acquisition process starts
with identifying tracts of land that harbor species of rare
plants and animals. The land is purchased outright or protected
with a conservation easement; that is, the Nature Conservancy
manages the land whose ownership remains in in private hands.
Some land purchases are made and then repurchased by the
federal (or state) government for protection. Some land
tracts become a nature preserve open to the public.
Visit The Nature Conservancy
The state chapters and their preserves, including photographs,
can be found at this site. Another, newer, land preservation
group is the West Virginia Land Trust.
Pulp mills. Perhaps
the greatest potential for jobs-tourism-scenic beauty conflict
arises when gargantuan amounts of timber are required for
producing pulp, chipboard, strand board, and the like. Their
voracious appetites are worrisome. Concern about the side
effects of massive scale timbering was a major factor in
the Mason County Pulp Mill controversy. After a decade-old
struggle in the courts and in the court of public opinion,
a coalition of citizens was able to defeat the pulp
mill proposal in early 1998. OVEC was a major participant
in its demise. A pre-victory commentary about that struggle
can be found at: http://www.envirolink.org/...
Let the following statement
from the president of the pulp mill company in a New
York Times interview be remembered as a cause of vigilence:
"We normally build pulp and paper mills in the boondocks
where we provide jobs and, in effect, become the power structure."
Last updated on Saturday, April 14, 2001