West Virginia Senate Bill SB270 - Logging (or, silvicultural management) of WV State Parks (Updated)

This has been updated with a response from the Kanawha Forest Coalition.

I received an urgent email from a friend regarding WV Senate Bill SB270. I suspect that this same message, and its related Youtube video, are making their way around various social networks. In situations like this, I tend to wear a skeptic’s hat. So, I decided to check out the full text of the bill.

Here is the relevant section, 7A (as highlighted in the image as well).

7a.  Sound Silvicultural Management of State Park Lands. (a) The director is hereby authorized to implement a sound silvicultural management plan for state park lands under his or her control. The director may select and sell timber located on state park lands only as part of a sound silvicultural management plan implemented pursuant to this section. (b)  The director, the state park superintendent of the property being analyzed, and the Director of the Division of Forestry shall determine the most effective management plan and write necessary prescriptions to ensure the successful implementation of the sound silvicultural management plan. (c) Any prescriptions written relating to timber harvesting shall not exceed the average of four trees per acre per tract nor more than one half of the merchantable timber volume of the acre. Only trees with a circumference of at least sixteen inches based on the diameter at breast height, may be harvested. (d) Any harvesting of timber from state park lands shall be conducted pursuant to the provisions of § 21 - 1 - 7(13) of this code : Provided, That the proceeds arising from a sale of timber located on state park lands shall be paid to the State Treasurer, credited to the division, and used exclusively for the purposes of maintaining, improving, and operating state parks. (e) The division may promulgate emergency rules pursuant to § 29A - 3 - 15 of this code in order to carry out the intent of this section, prevent additional harm to state lands, and protect the public interests.

I had no idea what silvicultural management was so, I looked it up. From Wikipedia:

“Silviculture is the practice of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health, and quality of forests to meet diverse needs and values… Generally, silviculture is the science and art of growing and tending forest crops, based on a knowledge of silvics, i.e., the study of the life history and general characteristics of forest trees and stands, with particular reference to locality factors.[2] More particularly, silviculture is the theory and practice of controlling the establishment, composition, constitution, and growth of forests.”

Based on the definition provided and the details of the bill as written, this seems like a reasonable approach to managing our State Parks. Essentially, the bill is authorizing the director, or park superintendent, to implement a management plan for the park that they are in charge of. Additionally, the proceeds arising from the sale of timber will be credited to the division and used exclusively for the purposes of maintaining, improving, and operating state parks.

So, a qualified person who has been put in charge of state parks will develop a plan for properly maintaining the forests that they were hired to manage. Am I wrong? Have I missed something?

Back to the urgent email. Here is the full text of the email that I received. This is also the text that is attached to the YouTube video I mentioned above.

Please email or call the governor’s office as well as at least the chairperson of each committee listed below.  Also please forward to anyone you believe would have an interest in stopping this bill before it gets a second of consideration. 

URGENT ACTION ALERT: Yesterday, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice introduced a bill (SB270) to open up ALL of WV’s State Parks to commercial logging.

The most important thing you can do TODAY to protect our State Parks is to contact Governor Justice at (304) 558-2000 or 1(888)438-2731 tell him that you oppose SB270 and you do NOT want logging in our State Parks. You can also email the Governor here: http://bit.ly/2mFmkAy

Then, please take a moment to contact the legislators on the Senate Natural Resources Committee and the Finance Committee, where this bill currently sits. Their phone numbers and email addresses are down below.

Our State Parks represent only one half of one percent (0.5%) of WV. These treasures have been protected from logging for over 80 years (after the widespread destruction wrought by clear-cuts and subsequent floods and slash fires in the early 20th century) and in that time have grown into beautiful mature forests as well as key drivers of our growing tourism economy. In 2016, West Virginia State Parks and Forests attracted 7.1 million visitors who spent $226.5 million throughout the state during these trips. Approximately 46 percent [$103.6 million] of this spending was by out-of-state visitors (WVDNR Annual Report, page 44)

Bulldozing logging roads, fouling streams with silt and mud, disturbing the peace with the whine of chainsaws and machinery, and cutting down the very forests that make our state parks so special IS NO WAY TO ENTICE VISITORS TO RETURN.

Governor Justice has made growing our tourism economy a primary goal of his administration, yet this proposal flies in the face of everything he claims to be working for. Gov. Justice and our state legislators need to hear loud and clear from West Virginians and those of you who live elsewhere but love WV that logging our State Parks is unacceptable.

Here are a few questions that I have about this urgent email.

  1. Do they not believe that silvicultural management is something that needs to be undertaken in WV State Parks?
  2. Is the issue that we are profiting from the sale of the timber?
  3. Assuming that you do believe in forest management, would it be better if we paid a company to come and manage it?
  4. Do you not trust the Director or State Park Superintendent to properly manage the companies that will be chosen to harvest the timber?
  5. Are we just assuming that anything that comes from the desk of the governor must be detrimental to the state and the environment?

I have some assumptions about those that are pushing against this bill but I’d really like to know what the impetus is for this campaign.

Update, 1/16 @ 10:21PM

I posted my thoughts in the comments of the YouTube video and received a response from the Kanawha Forest Coalition. It should be noted that the Kanawha Forest Coalition is but one organization that is concerned about this bill and does not speak for all.

Here are their responses to my questions about this email:

  1. Do they not believe that silvicultural management is something that needs to be undertaken in WV State Parks?: That is mostly correct. Forests do not need to be “managed” by humans. Can they be, and is that management sometimes beneficial in achieving specific wildlife or ecosystems goals? Yes, but our State Parks are not in need of such management. The mature forest ecosystems found in our state parks are relatively rare and are critical for the many species that depend on mature forest habitat for their survival. The vast majority of WV is available for logging and indeed is regularly logged, creating early successional ecosystems for the many other species, including many game animals, that prefer it. All but two of the state park superintendents, the people who literally live in these parks and know them inside and out are opposed to this bill, according to DNR director Steve McDaniel, who we met with last week.
  2. Is the issue that we are profiting from the sale of the timber?: That’s part of it. This bill isn’t about forest health or “sound silvicultural management”, unfortunately, it’s about the state looking for a quick and dirty way to finance a $50 million/ 20 year bond. It’s about the dollar bills, not the forests. The most dangerous part is that the state would be locked into this for 20 years. If the lumber market tanks? Too bad, we’ve got to keep cutting, even more, to pay the debt even if cutting doesn’t make sense ecologically or in the broader context of our tourism economy. It’s a dangerous position to get stuck in.
  3. Assuming that you do believe in forest management, would it be better if we paid a company to come and manage it?: No, it would be better to leave the forest in our state parks alone to manage itself, just as it did for eons before humans came along. If we have specific management goals that need to be addressed, such as a slowing the spread of a forest pest, then maybe there’s a place for limited management. But that’s a very different thing from commercial logging operations that target large, high-value veneer trees, which is what this plan is about, according to DOF director, Barry Cook (who we also met with last week), and according to the bill, which limits cutting to those trees greater than 16” dbh.
  4. Do you not trust the Director or State Park Superintendent to properly manage the companies that will be chosen to harvest the timber?: They will, as always, be under intense political and financial pressure in their decision-making process. It’s not that they’re necessarily bad people, but no, we do not trust them to properly manage a timber harvest program on state parks, especially one that REQUIRES a certain level of annual revenue. We have ample experience dealing with the DOF and DNR on projects at other state lands (state forests, wildlife management areas) to know that what happens on the ground is inevitably more destructive than what was planned on paper.
  5. Are we just assuming that anything that comes from the desk of the governor must be detrimental to the state and the environment?: No, in fact, we agree with the governor that our state parks are in need of adequate funding, and are willing to work with the agencies involved to make that happen in a way that makes sense economically and ecologically.