Save Our State Parks
UPDATE: On Monday, 2/12, the Senate Natural Resources Committee discussed SB270, the state parks logging bill. During the meeting, the original bill opening all our state parks to commercial logging was replaced with a substitute. The substitute bill still allows commercial logging in Watoga State Park, during what it calls a “pilot program”.
What Changes in the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 270?
The Committee Substitute restricts the commercial logging originally proposed in SB 270 to a three year “pilot program” in Watoga State Park. Any forest management and commercial timber sales are to be used to address forest health, wildlife diversity, wildfire risk, and expand recreational access.
What does not change in the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 270?
The bill still changes the purpose the state park system from “preserving” our natural and cultural heritage to “maintaining” it, opening the door for commercial logging and other fundamental shifts in the state park mission and management. The bill keeps the 16” diameter at breast height minimum for harvestable trees.
Alternative ways to raise revenue
We agree with Governor Justice that our state park system could use more funding. However, we disagree that logging the parks is the right way to raise revenue. We are willing to explore and discuss other creative ways to secure funding for our state parks.
Damage to Wild and Wonderful brand
In 2015, our state parks contributed $230 million to West Virginia’s economy. It’s the “Wild and Wonderful” forests of our state parks that are our natural competitive advantage in the tourism market. Forty-six percent of visitors to WV State Parks are from out-of-state. If even a small portion of them vacation elsewhere because the visitor experience is compromised, our state parks could lose far more from tourism than it gains from logging. Logging state parks would add to West Virginia’s negative reputation as a state that looks at extraction as its only solution.
Logging could be risky business
By mandating a minimum logging diameter, SB270/HB4182 could do long-term damage to forest health by cutting the largest, healthiest, and highest quality trees. Supply-and-demand tells us that logging our state parks could actually lower the price of timber if we commit to a 20-year bond financed by logging. The WV Division of Forestry reports the timber market already has been “sluggish,” with average timber prices dropping by a third between 2014–2016. Will we have to log more of our state’s best trees to make up for any drop in prices?
Logging may jeopardize federal funding
Our state park system was created 80 years ago to preserve natural values and provide outdoor recreation experiences. We risk the future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund for our state parks. The LWCF has given over $7 million to WV for acquisition and upkeep of state parks, so long as public recreation is the priority. If we allow commercial logging, we could end up missing out on any future grant money. West Virginia might even have to buy replacement property.
Wildlife needs many habitats
WV Division of Natural Resources cites benefits to wildlife habitat and game species in their pitch to log state parks. We don’t disagree that certain species do benefit from early successional forest habitat. But it’s equally clear that other species, many rare to West Virginia, need mature forest to thrive. These are the species that park visitors, like birders and hikers, come to our state to see. These species show the world that our state values the natural environment. Less than 4% of all West Virginia’s forestland is closed to logging. WVDNR has 390,000 acres of wildlife management areas where logging and hunting is already allowed — 5 times the acreage of WV state parks. Early successional forest could be created on WMAs, leaving mature forest habitat on state parks intact.