The one million acres of the Monongahela National Forest belong to our nation; here’s some recent news about your acreage:
Increased Timbering Proposed
The U.S. Forest Service has shared projections for future timber harvesting on the Monongahela National Forest. In 2018, 15 million board feet of timber would be cut, affecting an estimated 21,228 acres. This would increase each year, reaching a projected 30 million board feet annually by 2022. It’s hard to accurately predict how many acres will be affected by doubling the cut, and for many of the years, the Forest Service just lists the projected acreage as being somewhere above 40,000. An increase this steep is alarming, although a lot depends on the specifics of where the timbering takes place and how it is managed. We will be watching any new timber proposals very closely, and are prepared to challenge any inappropriate or excessive harvesting. Stay tuned for updates and action alerts!
Environmental Analysis Changes Proposed
On March 12, 2108, the U.S. Forest Service held a meeting in Elkins to discuss possible changes to the environmental analysis process mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Friends of Blackwater staff attended, along with representatives of the Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. The Forest Service presentation emphasized a need to “streamline” the environmental analysis process, to reduce decision-making time and the paperwork required.
There is good reason to question this reduction in environmental analysis, particularly where larger, more management intensive projects are concerned. Importantly, cutting back on analysis is not the only way to improve efficiency. Increases in staff devoted to handling permit applications could make the process faster, as could better upfront consultation with interested groups. Friends of Blackwater has commented on this to the Forest Service.
The Big Picture
On the Mon Forest, growing recreational use and awareness of the ecological impacts of timbering has often meant projects where timber harvest can be paired with goals like beneficial habitat enhancement. Pressure from Washington for more cutting and quicker analysis will make our Forest managers’ jobs – always a balancing act – that much harder.
Many of the “big old trees” of the Mon, now coming into their own, are the best possible habitat for “Ginny,” the West Virginia northern flying squirrel, and the constellation of rare species like Ginny that live in and depend on older growth areas of the Forest. The Monongahela, with its protective tree cover and rich soils, is also a carbon sink and a buffer against climate change for the world.
The National Forests belong to all of us and are meant to support many uses — including public uses like outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat, and ecological services (nature, clean water, and clean air). Today, the increasing and long-lasting value of the Mon lies in these public uses. We must always seek to strike the balance in their favor. Our descendants will thank us for a true conservati