ANWR, Public Lands Should Not Be Fodder For Tax Cuts

West Virginians cherish national public lands, even outside the Mountain State

By Matt Kearns

The current Senate budget proposal contains provisions allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to offset over $1.5 trillion in tax cuts. I am one of likely few West Virginians who has been to ANWR. I saved for five years and spent two weeks on a float trip through this spectacular wilderness not long after I left the Coast Guard. I ate fish straight from the river, climbed peaks to view thousands of passing caribou, tracked a wolf through camp, and slept fitfully under a never-setting sun. I’ll remember those experiences forever.

Issues surrounding energy and public lands issues are politically complex, especially in Alaska. The debate to drill in ANWR has continued for decades. ANWR’s “Section 1002” coastal plain contains substantial petroleum reserves, but is also the heart of the calving ground for migrating caribou and is the denning area for polar bears, keystone species of the Arctic and a source of food for tribes. A number of overlapping laws and international agreements govern the Arctic resources shared by tribes, Alaska, the United States, and Canada. Even for people who favor drilling, the speculative nature of energy markets should make us question the risks against any short-term rewards from drilling in ANWR.

Reasonable people can disagree, but what we should all find troubling is an effort to legislate drilling in ANWR — or Canaan Valley NWR any national wildlife refuge — using a budget gimmick in a debate over tax policy. Some estimates show that drilling in the Refuge could raise just $37.5 million in revenue for the U.S. Treasury over the next 10 years — certainly not worth the damage to the wildlife populations and Native Alaskans depending upon the Refuge for shelter and sustenance.

My firsthand experience in ANWR has led me to conclude that this special place is worthy of far more than a budget resolution, passed with a simple majority in the Senate. And our wild public lands should never be sacrificed to offset billions in tax breaks for corporations.

It reminds me of the budget resolution passed by the House in the first days of the 115th Congress. With little debate they voted that public lands had “no value” and could be transferred or sold without account. Even though most West Virginians haven’t been to AWNR, we still know the worth of our public lands system: The majority of West Virginians strongly favor protections for the special places on our public land. And we think that these priceless resources shouldn’t be subject to political sneak attacks in Congress.

As a Mountaineer that has experienced the grandeur of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, on behalf of all West Virginians for our public lands, I ask Senator Manchin and Senator Capito to oppose this attempt to drill in ANWR and pass a clean budget resolution. I urge you to ask them, too.

Matt Kearns, a West Virginia native, is a United States Coast Guard veteran and sportsman.

Wind, Snow, With A Chance Of Renewal In The Roaring Plains

The Place And People Are Pure West Virginia

by David Lillard

They call it The Roaring Plains for a reason. Atop the ridge, snows come sideways, campfires swirl, and nearly every spruce is flagged. On sunny days, though, there are views of the distant Seneca Rocks unparalleled by those from any other prospect. If you can manage to haul a telescope up the trail, you won’t want to sleep until daylight knocks out the stars.

The Roaring Plains and neighboring Flatrock Plains in Randolph and Pendleton counties comprise the largest and highest flat-topped plateau in eastern North America. It includes Roaring Plains West Wilderness, which was created in 2009 as part of the Wild Mon wilderness bill.

It also contains the highest sphagnum bogs in West Virginia; these help regulate stream flow at the headwaters for both sides of the Allegheny Front. There are wide, rocky, tree-studded flats surrounded by rock outcrops and cliffs. The views of surrounding ridges are breathtaking.

There’s another side to wandering in Roaring Plains, though. Intimate contact with nature. The spruce, the dense thickets of rhododendron and mountain laurel — and their June blossoms of white and pink — and, best of all, the blueberries.

It includes the rugged Mount Porte de Crayon, West Virginia’s 6th highest peak, and trails connecting to Red Creek Plains and Dolly Sods Wilderness. You could even hike all the way to Canaan Valley.

Some of my most vivid memories on The Mon come from Roaring Plains. My cadre of backpacking compadres have camped in a little grove of spruce known as the Hippie Shack. There’s no shack, just an opening in the sprue that provides shelter for five tents from the fierce winds. We’ve hike and camped along the Canyon Rim Trail, on one occasion lounging four hours on a flatrock overlook one November day when the temperature reached 70 degrees.  And we’ve been hit by sudden snows — about 180 inches fall there from October to May.

And there was the time we decided to take a shortcut — it’s always the shortcuts that get you — and got lost for hours in the thickets and bogs. We traipsed aimlessly all afternoon in a narrow stream with water to our knees amidst grasses all around 4 to 5 feet tall. At least they seemed that tall. Finally, we began to seriously consider that we would not make it back to camp that night. That splendid meal of flank steak and guacamole hanging in a bear bag at camp would go uneaten.

We seven middle-aged guys argued about which direction to strike. To escape the racket, I moved toward the woods 25 yards away. Stepping through, I immediately discovered the trail we had set out on that morning. We were less than a mile from camp. That was one of the best camp suppers I’ve ever had.

On a solo trek many years ago, I huffed my way up to the rocks and reached them exhausted. There I found a hiker admiring the view. We exchanged pleasantries and stories, and he interpreted the surrounding ridges and valleys to me. After a time, he grew silent and smiled, and said quietly, “This is what got me home.”  I looked at him waiting for more. He lifted a pant leg to show me his prosthetic. “ When you are bivouacked in a rice paddy for weeks on end waiting for sniper fire, you think about the things you want to get back to.”

All I could think of to say was, “Thank you.” He look at me and nodded, replying, “You bet.” Then we shook hands and he disappeared down the trail.

I am older now than he was then. I’ve noticed over the last couple of years that when someone says thank you to me, I reflexively say, “You bet.”

Another time, I was driving out of the forest on a rutted road. Distracted by scenery, I slid two wheels into a ditch. I spent a long time trying to get out, to no avail. I remembered chatting with a couple of bear hunters earlier in the day, and hoped those two pickup trucks back at the trailhead belonged to them, and that they would come by on their way out. They did.

Within minutes they had attached a chain to my car, pulled me out, given me a dry towel to get the mud off my face and body, and some water. Following West Virginia code, they would not accept any token.

These days I worry about The Mon and other national public lands. To me, it is unconscionable that some people want to sell off or give away vast tracks of our heritage.

I could no more choose a favorite place on The Mon than drink only one kind of wine. But the Roaring Plains are in my bones. Every time I drive out Route 28, as I approach Jordan Run Road, I feel my steering wheel, and my heart, veering toward a trailhead to this spectacular place.

A Paddler Goes To Washington

A Capitol Hill perspective from a West Virginia paddler

By Dave Bassage

To an outsider looking in, these seem like especially uncertain times in Congress. But what does it look like from the inside? I got a peek a few weeks ago, and offer my insights here.

First a bit about me. I left a teaching career and moved to West Virginia in 1984 to pursue my budding passion for whitewater, training as a guide on the New and Gauley rivers. In the early ‘90s, I helped found Friends of the Cheat when a massive acid mine drainage blowout turned the Cheat River orange and lifeless. I stepped aside from managing a rafting operation on the Cheat to lead the early years of the fledgling organization that today has brought the Cheat back to life.

Since then my work has bounced back and forth between environment work inside and outside government, and leadership roles in the outdoor recreation industry. Today I do contract work with professional outfitters and with the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. And I still guide, as well as paddle, bike, hike, and hunt at every opportunity on and in the many wild and wonderful rivers and forests of the state.

So what took me to DC?

National conservation organizations periodically organize “fly-ins” to bring concerned citizens from their respective states to meet with their elected representatives and/or their staffs. I have participated in three (although I drive my Prius to them, rather than “fly in”), representing the interests of whitewater raft outfitters in our state. The first two focused on appropriations for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses royalties from offshore oil and gas leases to buy land within the boundaries of national public lands. The bottom line is that LWCF improves recreation access.

This most recent fly-in was to promote the values of public lands and protect the Antiquities Act — the tool that empowers presidents to create national monuments on already-owned national public lands.

I never know on these trips whether I’ll get actual face time with elected representatives or only their staffs, but both can be effective. Staff can spend more time learning about the specifics, and know how best to pass what is shared to their boss.

And it’s always great to speak in person with a Senator or Representative. On a previous visit, I had a few minutes with Senator Manchin and extended time with Representative Jenkins. This time I had 20 minutes one-on-one with Senator Capito. After we covered my planned talking points, she questioned me at length about opportunities and challenges for whitewater companies in the state.

I came away with a sense that the uncertainty I feel outside the Beltway is alive and well inside it. Still, I get the sense the staffs and Congressional members are dedicated to doing the best they can can to protect the interests of West Virginians. I felt my input was valued. Time will tell how well our public lands continue to be valued.

Public lands are vital to the outdoor recreation economy. Too often I hear perspectives that pit public lands against business interests, but in my business we depend on public lands and waters for our very livelihood. Without public accesses, we would be unable to take our guests rafting. Without protected resources, we would have nothing to show visitors to entice them to return — so they can spend their money not just with us, but on a wide range of lodging, dining, and other businesses during their stays.

So it’s not just outdoor recreation businesses that rely on public lands, it’s all the businesses that benefit from tourism enabled by those lands. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation nationally generates $887 billion in consumer spending, and provides 7.6 million jobs. The group’s most recent figures for West Virginia show the outdoor economy supports over 82,000 jobs and generates more than $532 million in state and local tax revenue.

That’s why I went to DC. This isn’t about tree huggers versus business leaders. This is about jobs. This is about jobs that can’t be outsourced to China. This is about keeping a roof over our heads. So I shared how tens of thousands of West Virginians like me make their livings off of public lands and the outdoor recreation economy.

I also went because it’s not just about business. I’m passionate about outdoor recreation. I wanted to make sure our delegation knew how important public lands are to our state’s identity. A recent survey by the Global Strategy Group showed that a staggering 96% of West Virginians agree that public lands and the access to hunting, fishing, and recreation they provide are important to our quality of life.

Most of West Virginia’s delegation support public lands — most of the time. I want to make sure that when pressure mounts to make deals, they are paying attention to what we West Virginians value.

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