Legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday would designate seven parcels of federal land within the Monongahela National Forest as wilderness. The bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-3rd District and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st District, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd District, is an effort to ensure parts of the Mon remain available for hunting, fishing and hiking.
According to a prepared statement from Rahall’s office, the legislation titled “Wild Monongahela: A National Legacy for West Virginia’s Special Places,” expands three existing “federal wilderness areas within the MNF and establishes four new ones. All the new areas are currently managed by the Forest Service as wilderness, emphasizing non-motorized settings and a natural environment. The bill would make this type of management permanent.”
The legislation proposes to designate seven areas as wilderness. The total amount of land that will be changed is 47,128 acres. Three of the areas are additions to existing wilderness areas: Cranberry Expansion in Webster and Pocahontas counties, Dolly Sods Expansion in Tucker County and Dry Fork Expansion in Tucker County to the Otter Creek Wilderness area. The other four are proposed new wilderness areas: Big Draft in Greenbrier County, Cheat Mountain in Randolph County, Roaring Planes West in Pendleton and Randolph counties and Spice Run in Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties.
“This legislation is about the heart and soul of West Virginia,” Rahall said in his statement. “Our southern mountains have been yielding their coal for generations and our northern ridge lines are being targeted by the merchants of wind power. More development is coming, and, in most cases, it is welcomed.
“But as West Virginians, we are intimately connected to our land,” the statement continues. “Our roots are planted deep in our misty hollers and our majestic mountains. We know that we will be judged by future generations on our stewardship of this land that is West Virginia. So I believe that it is of paramount importance that we, once again, set aside some of God’s handiwork in our forests by preserving these federal lands in their pristine state.”
Rahall, Mollohan and Capito evaluated the 2006 Forest Management Plan and 18 roadless areas were inventoried and evaluated for potential wilderness designation. Seven were included in the bill.
“In West Virginia, we’re proud of our beautiful landscape and have a sincere interest in ensuring that its beauty is maintained for future generations,” Capito said in a prepared statement. “Yet, as we know we can’t designate the entire state as a national wilderness area and must make important choices as we consider the impact and significance of any wilderness designation.
“Armed with an in-depth study, the National Forest Service recommended only Cheat Mountain and Roaring Plains West for wilderness designation in the 2nd Congressional District. Facing calls for even more wilderness designation, their recommendations strike a reasonable balance and I very much appreciate their , nput.
Capito’s statement continues in that she “also appreciated the input I received from numerous local leaders, hunters, mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts from throughout the state and in Randolph and Pendleton counties. They appreciate the beauty of our state, but also understand the necessity of being cautious when considering the ramifications of wilderness expansion outside the boundaries identified by the Forest Service.”
Established in 1920, the MNF is a major recreational resource and host to an estimated 3 million visitors annually. The forest is comprised of more than 919,000 acres of federal land in 10 counties in the eastern portion of West Virginia. Currently there are five designated wilderness areas in the MNF comprising 78,041 acres. The five areas are Otter Creek, Dolly Sods, Laurel Fork North and South and the Cranberry Wilderness.
A designated wilderness area is created to preserve wilderness attributes and the natural environment for future generations and to provide challenging recreation opportunities in a wilderness setting. According to the MNF Land and Resource Management Plan, “management activities are typically extremely low to non-existent. Age class distribution is moving toward dominance by late successional stands where gaps form from natural disturbances as trees age.”
Wilderness areas prohibit active forest management and wildlife management. Different forest age classes benefit a variety of wildlife populations within forest ecosystems and across the forest landscape.
In a 2006 Forest Management Plan, the Forest Service recommended four wilderness areas – Cheat Mountain, Cranberry Expansion, Dry Fork and Roaring Planes West. The four proposed areas in 2006 totalled 27,694 acres of MNF land to be changed to wilderness.
By Anthony Gaynor
30 January 2008
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