Concerns voiced about language in WV forest management bill

Nadia Ramlagan

The West Virginia Senate has passed a bill to allow private forest fire management on state lands but environmental groups said they are concerned its “vague” wording could open the door for commercial industries to operate on state-owned property.

Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said lawmakers also rejected an amendment to Senate Bill 688 which would have specifically removed state parks and rail trails from being subject to private management.

“We’re concerned about the broadness of the application here, and what this could mean for all of our state public lands,” Rosser explained. “In particular, state parks and rail trails, where logging is prohibited.”

Rosser pointed out the bill, which permits secret, noncompetitive bid contracts from out-of-state interests, could lead to widespread timber harvest. According to the state, last year West Virginia saw 916 fires, which burned more than 11,000 acres. The U.S. Forest Service said standard forest management practices include cutting trees and removing underbrush.

Rosser added West Virginia’s state parks were established with conservation of natural assets as a priority, to help maintain the state’s outdoor recreation economy.

“We are wanting to bring attention and careful thought to not undermining that primary purpose of conservation and outdoor recreation,” Rosser stressed. “Whether it be wildfire management or other, profit-driven economic development, which is also mentioned in the second part of this bill.”

According to the Western Chiefs Fire Association, human actions are responsible for nearly 90% of wildfires in the U.S., from discarded cigarettes, unattended campfires or carelessly burning debris, among other factors.