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March 14, 2013

Dear Friend of Blackwater,

Signs of Spring are all around us in the High Alleghenies! 

Red Skunk Cabbage spikes are pushing up through the snow.  Yellow catkins, filled with pollen, dangle from dainty hazelnut bushes, and the secretive woodcock has begun its celestial courtship, dance at dusk in the moist meadows of Canaan Valley.   "Ginny" the West Virginia Flying Squirrel is nursing her babies, deep in her warm nest in a hollow tree.  

Tiny Indiana Bats should be emerging from their winter caves, and moving to trees in the forest -- to have their babies.  The bats gather in maternity colonies, made up of dozens of mother bats, each with a single pup. 

Indiana bats protect the ecological balance in our high mountain forests by eating one thousand mosquitoes, moths, and other nighttime insects per hour.   But will there be any Indiana bats -- or their cousins, the little brown bats -- to keep forest insect populations in check? 

An epidemic of White-Nose Syndrome fungus is causing the rapid downward spiral of Indiana and little brown bat populations.  The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 5 to 7 million cave-dwelling bats in the East have died of this syndrome -- and there is no cure!!  Recent research shows that the pathogen lives on in cave soil, even after all the bats are gone.  To survive, bats may have to find new caves to hibernate in through the winter.

Today, Friends of Blackwater needs your help and support to make sure these tiny creatures have a fighting chance, and that their emergence from caves in April remains part of Springtime in our High Allegheny mountains – for all of us.

What are we doing to help the bats survive?? On February 28, 2013, Friends of Blackwater's lawyers sent a Notice of Intent to Sue letter to the Monongahela National Forest managers – the people who manage our public land in the Highlands.
Our Notice Letter – over eighty-six pages of science and law! – shows how the proposed massive Upper Greenbrier North timbering project will destroy critical habitat for endangered bats that live between Gaudineer Knob and Blister Swamp -- in the headwaters of the Greenbrier River, and next to the headwaters of the Potomac.

The Notice Letter shows how in their rush to "get out the cut," government officials are ignoring the huge downward spiral of endangered bat colonies.   New research shows that every endangered bat cave in West Virginia that was surveyed in 2012-13 was infected with the White-Nose Syndrome fungus.  Mon Forest managers are ignoring this research – and violating the law. 

Unless we push back strongly, it will be "business as usual" in the Mon Forest -- spraying herbicides, carving out new roads, and cutting timber, without regard for the endangered creatures that are at risk. If the proposed project is not modified, Friends of Blackwater will take legal action.  These endangered species can't defend themselves – that's up to us.  And we can't do it without your support.

This is just one example of our daily work at Friends of Blackwater.  We have also pressured the Fish and Wildlife Service to create protections for the little brown bat, and they have begun a nationwide study of the issue.  We expect them to take action in the next few months.

Friends of Blackwater has also challenged the Forest Service to take care of historic sites on our public land, and they have responded.  They have installed interpretive signs in the Town of Thomas, and below the old Town of Coketon, along the historic Blackwater Canyon Rail Trail.  This Spring, work begins on restoring an old railroad bridge (photo at right) over the North Fork of the Blackwater, to support hikers and bikers.  This restoration will create a continuous, streamside, off-road trail from downtown Thomas to the historic coke ovens, along the river.

Friends of Blackwater has also received a grant from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protect to develop a “State of the River Report” on the Blackwater River system.  In the report, we will highlight water quality -- both good and bad -- in the watershed.  We expect the report will lead to a reduction in water pollution.

We couldn’t do any of this work without your involvement and gifts! Because of your support, we have built miles of trails, added hundreds of acres to Blackwater Falls State Park, increased protection and restoration of historic sites, and cleaned up streams degraded by mining.

We are very grateful for all you have done to protect the Highlands.  We can all be proud and glad that our "little bit of Canada in Appalachia" still welcomes all seekers of solitude, scenic views, pristine streams, rare wildlife, and treasured reminders of our past.
Please give generously, so we can make Spring in the Highlands safer for our most vulnerable creatures! 

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Sincerely,

                                                                                                               

Judy Rodd