The U.S. Forest Service plans to chop down what conservation groups say are large swaths of old-growth trees in the Monongahela National Forest, and they are rallying today to protest the project.
The trees are located in parts of the 86,000-acre project area, north of Parsons, West Virginia. The Forest Service said logging the area is needed to improve vegetation diversity and stream conditions in the Upper Cheat watershed.
Cory Chase, program director for the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, countered removing mature trees would cause flooding and sedimentation, and endanger habitat for native fish species.
“Some of these trees that we’re talking about are 120 years old, at the oldest,” Chase pointed out. “Part of the reason that people advocate to keep them there is to sequester carbon, and keep trail systems and habitat for animals intact.”
He also noted older trees store higher amounts of carbon, which helps to buffer the effects of climate change. Supporters of the project argued logging will create new habitat for some animals.
Chase explained around 34,000 acres of National Forest land is expected to be logged.
“And of that, over 65% of the project to be cut is over 100 years old,” Chase emphasized. “That’s from the Forest Service.”
Local groups taking part in the rally, include Friends of Blackwater, the Sierra Club West Virginia chapter, Speak For The Trees Too, and the West Virginia Environmental Council.
Chase stressed the Highlands Conservancy is not a formal intervenor in the project, but has reached out to the Forest Service to express concerns.
“We commented early on in this process, and they addressed our comments,” Chase remarked. “The Conservancy itself did not put in an objection.”
He added residents’ drinking water quality is also at risk. According to the World Resources Institute, forests act as natural water filtration systems, and removing trees can increase sediment and contamination, leading to higher water treatment costs.