State Senator Introduces Bill Banning Valley Fills

Contact: Sen. Jon Blair Hunter: 304-357-7995
Joe Lovett, Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, 304-645-9006
Cindy Rank, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, 304-924-5802
Don Garvin, WV Environmental Council, 304-395-0078
Judy Bonds, Coal River Mountain Watch, 304-854-2182
Vivian Stockman, OVEC, 304-360-1979


Citizen Groups Laud “Long-Past Due” Legislation

CHARLESTON, W.VA. – Senator Jon Blair Hunter (D-Monongalia) today introduced legislation that would effectively end the practice of burying thousand of miles of streams under the rubble created by mountaintop removal coal mining.

“I introduced Senate Bill 588 because I fervently believe that God did not intend for us to destroy the mountains, the streams, the forests and His people in order to mine coal,” Sen. Hunter said.

In mountaintop removal, coal companies blast hundreds of feet off the tops of mountains in order to mine thin seams of coal. Rubble from the former mountaintops is pushed into “valley fills,” burying streams in nearby valleys under hundreds of millions of tons of mining waste. According to the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, 1,208 miles of streams in Appalachia were destroyed from 1992 to 2002, and regulators approved 1,603 more valley fills between 2001 and 2005 that will destroy 535 more miles of streams.

“Senator Hunter’s bill would stop mountain top removal operators from continuing to use West Virginia’s mountain streams as giant garbage cans to dispose of billions of tons of mining waste,” said Joe Lovett executive director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment. “West Virginians overwhelmingly oppose mountaintop removal, and I hope that the Manchin administration and others in the Legislature will stand with Senator Hunter to stop the permanent destruction of a huge swath of one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. It is time for the madness of mountaintop removal to come to an end, and Senator Hunter’s bill is an important step in that direction.”

“For years, the legislature has refused to even consider the catastrophic environmental impact of mountaintop removal coal mining. This bill is long-past due,” said Don Garvin, legislative coordinator for the West Virginia Environmental Council.

“This bill is a good start. We need to do something to protect our streams,” said Mike Maynor, a former coal truck driver from Dorothy, in Raleigh County. “We also need to protect our homes from more flooding, such as the floods that damaged my home in 2001.” Maynor lives downstream from a valley fill, in an area where coal companies have asked for 15 new valley fills.

“People everywhere who care about West Virginia’s future should be so grateful to Senator Hunter for having the courage to introduce this bill,” said Janice Nease, co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “People trying to live with the effects of the blasting, people watching our mountains and streams destroyed forever—all of us are extremely grateful to Senator Hunter.”

“Many state legislators must know in their hearts that mountaintop removal coal mining is a national disgrace. They must know this is the worst environmental destruction going on in North America,” said Raleigh County resident Chuck Nelson, a former deep miner and a volunteer with OVEC, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “I’m so glad this legislation has finally been introduced.”

“The thousands of headwater streams being buried under valley fills are the life blood of our mountains and our mountain communities. If coal is to be mined, it should be done in a manner that doesn’t destroy the water that we all depend on and the communities that have existed for generations along these streams,” said Cindy Rank, of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “Surely there are other Senators who can stand beside Jon Hunter in support of Senate Bill 588. It is the right thing to do for the future of West Virginia.”

Written by Administrator in: Mountaintop Removal,State Government |


Major milestone in efforts to protect the Monongahela National Forest

By Hugh Rogers

On January 29, West Virginia’s Congressional delegation introduced the “Wild Monongahela Act – A National Legacy for West Virginia’s Special Places.” This bill marks a major milestone in the Highlands Conservancy’s continuing efforts to protect the Monongahela National Forest. But the work isn’t over yet.

It has been forty years since we set out to gain wilderness protection for the Mon’s special places. Not long after the Highlands Conservancy was formed, our attention was drawn to a host of threats to the forest. Proposed super highways along our scenic ridgelines, dams on our free-flowing rivers, and massive clear cuts had shocked West Virginians and visitors who love these areas. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the Highlands Conservancy played a lead role in protecting five wilderness areas, amounting to roughly 8% of the Mon’s 919,000 acres.

Spice Run Proposed Wilderness Area Photo by Jonathan Jessup

Today, the forest is at risk again. Massive high voltage power transmission lines have the Mon in their sights. Energy developments such as gas exploration, coal mining, and huge wind generating facilities are also threatening our treasured national forest lands. The Forest Service continues clear cutting the forest and carving it up with roads. The conclusion reached by the Highlands Conservancy’s founders still remains valid: Wilderness designation is the only way we can assure these special places are protected for future generations.

Wilderness protection for national forest lands is not easy to achieve. In 1983, when the bill protecting the Cranberry Wilderness passed and was signed into law, the headline in the Highlands Voice read, “After 12 years, Cranberry Becomes Wilderness.” To see legislation introduced and passed requires, more than anything, stick-to-it-iveness. Our current efforts officially began at the 2001 Highlands Conservancy Spring Review. The theme was “Celebrating West Virginia’s Wilderness.” Many interested members came together in Canaan Valley to discuss how best to continue the tradition. Ed Zahniser, son of Wilderness Act author Howard Zahniser, gave a moving keynote address, “Wilderness in the Blood.”

Soon afterwards, then Administrative Assistant, Dave Saville, got together with Helen McGinnis, Don Gasper, Peter Shoenfeld and other Highlands Conservancy members and began to plan the campaign. We teamed up with Sierra Club activists Frank Slider, Mary Wimmer and Beth Little, and with help from Fran Hunt and The Wilderness Society’s Wilderness Support Center, we formed the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition.

The Wilderness Coalition is a loosely knit association of existing conservation organizations working towards a single goal: to protect important federal lands in West Virginia as wilderness. We combined our resources and hired a full time coordinator, Matt Keller. We set about taking an inventory of important roadless areas of the Mon and evaluating them for their wilderness potential. In September 2004, we released A Citizens Wilderness Proposal for the Monongahela National Forest.

Since that time, hundreds of volunteers have worked tirelessly to build support for the proposal. Businesses, organizations, elected officials and individuals from all walks of life have spoken with a loud and unified voice, and that voice has been heard by our Congressional delegation. The introduction of the Wild Monongahela Act is an important milestone in our efforts. We can’t quit now! The next phase of our campaign has just begun.

Congressman Rahall told Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette, “This is a battle for the heart and soul of West Virginia.” We must redouble our efforts to support our delegation as they move their bill through Congress. At the same time, we can encourage them to improve it by including the important areas that have been left out. It is not too late to include Seneca Creek, East Fork of Greenbrier, and all of the Roaring Plains in the bill. Please check out the insert in this issue of the Highlands Voice for more information on our efforts and how you can help. And keep checking in to the Coalition’s website (www.wvwild.org) to learn the latest news and the kind of support we need to get to the finish line.

Thanks to everyone who has helped to get us this far along in the process. We hope you will continue working with us to bring our efforts to fruition. Wilderness is indeed in our blood

Written by Administrator in: The Highlands Voice,Wilderness |

From the Heart of the Highlands

“The Verdict Is Just the Beginning”

by Hugh Rogers

John Grisham, whose legal thrillers set moral issues to the music of suspenseful plots, took a few years off to write a non-fiction book on the same theme. Now he’s back with The Appeal, and though it’s being sold as a novel, and the characters are his invention, it doesn’t sound fictitious at all—not to West Virginians, anyway.

When a chemical company loses a jury trial over toxic waste it dumped into a town’s water supply, the company’s president spends millions of dollars to elect a sympathetic judge to the state’s supreme court, which will hear the appeal. He wants protection beyond that one case. It’s the precedent, and the company’s exposure to future lawsuits, that really concern him.

In a nutshell, as the publisher’s advertisements put it, “The verdict is just the beginning.” Grisham has been told that the plot seems “far-fetched.” On the “Today” show at the end of January, he said this: “It’s already happened. It happened a few years ago in West Virginia. A guy owned a coal company. He got tired of being sued. He elected his guy to the Supreme Court. It switched back his way. Now he doesn’t worry about getting sued.”

Earlier in the month, the coal guy in question, Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, had appeared in newspapers all over the country in photos taken on the Riviera during the summer of 2006, while his latest appeal was pending. He didn’t look worried. His companion was the Chief Justice, Elliott Maynard—not to be confused with Justice Brent Benjamin, the guy who’d been elected in 2004 thanks to a Blankenship-funded multi-million-dollar ad campaign smearing Benjamin’s opponent.

Last November, both justices voted to overturn a $50 million jury verdict against Massey Energy (that verdict is now worth $76 million, including interest over the five and a half years since it was awarded). The vote was 3 to 2.

The plaintiffs filed motions for a rehearing and asked the two justices not to sit on the case, given their potential conflicts of interest. The Chief Justice did recuse himself; Justice Benjamin did not. It seems the photos from Monaco were more current—and more embarrassing— than the three-year-old ad campaign.

In a brief statement, the Chief Justice said his recusal was necessary to avoid the appearance of impropriety. No appearance in the papers, no impropriety? The fact that his friendship with Blankenship went back thirty years had not moved him at all. One of the plaintiff’s lawyers commented, “It’s unfortunate that it took so long for the justice to disclose his very extensive dealings with Don Blankenship.”

Meanwhile, in other dealings with Blankenship and his company, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a $30 million settlement of more than four thousand violations of the Clean Water Act. Massey agreed to pay a fine of $20 million and spend another $10 million for “pollution control improvements.” Based on the penalties authorized in the Act, the fine could have been well over a billion dollars.

We’re not complaining about the size of the fine. We’re just disgusted with where the money went, and what the settlement means. After all, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is supposed to monitor compliance with the Clean Water Act. When the EPA has to step in, it’s like having the State Board of Education comein to run your county’s schools because your county board has been found incompetent. Later this month, the West Virginia Senate will hold oversight hearings on the DEP’s failure to enforce the law.

While the DEP has a federal agency and the legislature looking over its shoulder, the Supreme Court justices act alone. There is no appeal from a justice’s decision not to remove himself from a case in which he has an apparent conflict of interest. There is only one form of oversight: it’s called an election.

John Grisham’s native state of Mississippi also elects its appellate judges, although, in a recent poll, a majority of respondents didn’t know it. Imagine what goes through their minds when they reach that part of the ballot.

Written by Administrator in: Mining Matters,Mountaintop Removal,The Highlands Voice |


By Frank Young

TrAIL is an acronym for the proposed Trans-Allegheny Interstate line. As most Highlands Voice readers surely know by now, nearly a year ago the Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line Company (TrAILCo), a wholly owned sub-company of Allegheny Energy Company (formerly Allegheny Power Co.) filed an application with the WV Public Service Commission (PSC) for approval to construct a 500 kilovolt capacity electricity transmission line through 114 miles of West Virginia, crossing Monongalia, Preston, Tucker, Grant, Hardy and Hampshire Counties. The new line would originate in southwestern Pennsylvania, and would terminate in northern Virginia. .

To where would the TrAIL we are talking about here lead, then? For many of us who have looked into what’s behind the alleged need for this needless spoiler of prime vistas, backyards and front yards along its 114 mile path, it would lead directly to more coal. It would lead to more coal mining including strip mining, to the burning of more coal, to construction of more pollution belching power plants in the Ohio Valley region, and to construction of many more monstrously large and imposing power lines and their supporting steel towers

The unabashed purpose of the TrAIL is to feed the east coast’s increasing gluttony for more and more electricity- as long as it’s generated somewhere else, and as long as it’s “cheap”- meaning that its costs are borne disproportionately by communities other than those that consume all this electrical energy. And West Virginians washed in the blood of coal slurry and bathed in the other related miseries of coal know well about these externalized costs- meaning costs not reflected in the artificially low “market” price of electricity generated by coal. “Coal by wire” is not cheapalthough it’s generated on the cheap.

A large and potent informal coalition of groups and individuals has mounted a massive campaign to have the TrAIL application denied by the state PSC. The “bumper sticker” slogan for the campaign is “WV Is Ours; Stop Allegheny Towers”.

In January the state PSC held eleven days of evidentiary hearings on the TrAIL application. More than two dozen stakeholders, called interveners, presented evidence, crossexamined witnesses, and made their arguments in front of the Commissioners

TrAIL opponents can take some cautious comfort in the general perception that the TrAil application is going down in defeat. The informal coalition of groups in opposition even includes an independent electricity generating company that has some medium sized natural gas fueled power plants, is and planning on building more of them in the DC to Boston corridor. Several of these project opponents are optimistic that the TrAil project application will be denied by the state PSC. And the PSC’s own staff had recommended against approval. The PSC is expected to rule on the application by late March.

The opposition to the TrAIL application has been costly. Expert witness testimony can cost hundreds of dollars an hour. And there are still thousands of dollars of these expert witness fees unpaid due to insufficient funds. It is important to raise the funds needed to procure and pay these experts for their testimony in opposition to granting a Certificate of Need for this unnecessary environmental monstrosity.

The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy supports the evidentiary case against the TrAIL application. And we ask readers to support this important endeavor too. The “bumper sticker” slogan for the campaign is “WV Is Ours; Stop Allegheny Towers”.

You can help with your tax-exempt contribution to the WV Highlands Conservancy, dedicated to the fight against this power line. Send your contribution to
WV Highlands Conservancy,
PO BOX 306,
Charleston WV, 25321.
Be sure and mark your check or attached note for the “stop TrAILCo towers’ campaign.

Or you can make your contribution on our website at: http://www.wvhighlands.org. Simply write “stop TrAILCo towers” in the “Your Comments” text box when checking out your shopping cart there.

(This article developed from sources including WV Sierra Club, WV Public Service Commission, and communications among various attorneys and other representatives of the opposing parties. Contact: fyoung@wvhighlands.org .)

Written by Administrator in: Energy,Environment,The Highlands Voice |


Massey Gets Its Comeuppance, Or at Least Part of It

By Cindy Rank

No doubt a many readers of the Highlands Voice have already heard about the record setting fines levied by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against Massey Energy for over 4,000 violations of Clean Water Act discharge permits at some 44 mines in West Virginia and Kentucky.

Articles appeared in local and regional papers, as well as the New York Times, Washington Post and even as far south as the Florida Herald-Tribune.

In May 2007 EPA filed a civil suit against coal giant Massey Energy and several of its subsidiaries for discharging pollutants and violating water discharge permits (NPDES permits) thousands of times over a six year period (2000 through 2006).

In its complaint, EPA recognized the long history of non-compliance by Massey, citing numerous spills, breaks, valley fill failures and pipe line breaks at several Massey operations. Of course the most egregious of these was the Martin County Coal incident near Inez, Kentucky in October 2000. Arguably the largest coal slurry spills in the history of the United States, and referred to as the largest single pollution event in the Eastern United States, over 300 million gallons of waste coal drained into an adjacent underground mine and broke out into nearby waterways. The Tug Fork River was fouled for some 10 miles, thousands of fish were killed, water intakes were forced to shut down and riverside yards in WV and KY were covered with several feet deep muck and goo.

In it’s litigation EPA claimed that despite the long history of Clean Water Act (CWA) violations and enforcement efforts by federal, state and local authorities, Massey Energy and its subsidiaries continue to violate the Clean Water Act, and remain in substantial noncompliance with the law.

Citing violations documented in self-monitoring reports each company is required to submit, EPA found that Massey discharged excess amounts of metals, sediment, acid mine drainage and slurry waste into hundreds of rivers and streams. Many of the pollutants were in amounts 40 percent or more than allowed.

However, since neither West Virginia nor Kentucky had taken action against companies reporting these violations, the federal government stepped in to do what the states had failed to do.

By law the civil penalties for the listed violations could have amounted to over 2 billion dollars (that’s 2 with a capital “B”).

The Consent Decree filed with the court January 17th requires Massey Energy to pay $20 million (basically a penny on a dollar). Additionally Massey will have to take a number of measures aimed at preventing future violations including:

  • Hire independent monitoring consultants
  • Devise a tracking system for future reporting of pollutant discharges
  • Abide by extensive monitoring requirements, with reports to be sent to environmental groups (several groups including WV Highlands Conservancy sought to intervene in the case and will be apprised of these reports) as well as government agencies
  • Internal audits of treatment systems when sampling discharges
  • Additional testing and reporting obligations. News releases from EPA and from our citizens groups are posted on the www.wvhighlands.org website with links to further details of the consent decree.

Now for the “more” part of this story that consists of two major questions which I leave for further discussion in future issues of the VOICE.

1) Why, you may ask, was it the federal EPA and not our own West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection that cited these companies, and collected the requisite fines? ….. A good question on several counts.

  • The Discharge Monitoring Reports are routinely received and entered into the Department of Environmental Protection’s computer system by very conscientious employees, but the reports were never printed out or reviewed. …. Randy Huffman, Director of the mining office, had this to say in a Charleston Gazette story January 20th: “For whatever reason we were not getting it done. There was a glitch and they (his predecessors) got off track with it.”
  • At a Coal Symposium just days before the settlement was filed, the same Director Huffman bemoaned the fact that a growing budget gap will hamstring the agency’s strip-mine inspection program in the next few years. …. One has to believe that the Department of Environmental Protection’s overall budget would have benefited greatly from fines amounting to 2 billion dollars, or even the 20 million EPA expects to collect!

2) Going forward, what should we expect? In the January 20th Gazette article, DEP officials admitted the agency is still about a year behind in reviewing the coal industry’s pollution reports, and the agency has not issued any citations or assessed fines for any violations discovered on reports it reviewed for late 2006 and 2007. Jeff McCormick, assistant director for enforcement, was quoted as saying operators with violations received letters notifying them of the problems, but no monetary penalties have been sought from any mining companies. He also said DEP’s current plan is to fine companies only when an agency inspector takes a water sample that shows a violation, but no fines are being issued for violations noted on a company’s monitoring reports. This is an approach that not only runs counter to the clear intent of the Clean Water Act, but also negates one of the strongest enforcement tools afforded the state agency by that law.

3) And, finally, if violations by Massey and its many subsidiaries were overlooked for the past six years, how many more companies have documented similar violations without any repercussions. DEP is taking action (though the validity and effectiveness of their approach is questionable) from 2006 forward, but were there no other companies with violations reported for the same six years that EPA sued Massey for? Was the rest of the coal industry without violations during that time? My guess is, this story is far from over.

Written by Administrator in: Mining Matters,Mountaintop Removal,The Highlands Voice |


When your member of congress gets up in the morning, gets a coffee and grabs the paper guess what section he/she turns to first? Yep, you guessed it, the editorial section. So does his/her staff in West Virginia and back in DC. The letters to the editor section of local papers is where lawmakers get to see what their constituents are thinking and what issues, concerns and topics are being debated in their communities.

Moreover, letters to the editor can make a real difference in efforts to protect wilderness and influence lawmakers. Letters help inform our neighbors about issues and help to rally support for legislative efforts. If you don’t believe me just ask Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA). Sen. Landrieu has been a swing vote on opening the Arctic National Wildlife for years and the oil and gas companies have spent millions of dollars to sway her votes. Conservationists’ main weapon in this fight has been the all mighty letter to the editor and in many instances these letters have kept Sen. Landrieu from giving in to oil and gas industry pressures and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has remained wild and free of drilling.

Here in West Virginia your letters are needed to support the Congressional delegation’s new wilderness bill and help give them the cover to improve the legislation to include special places like Seneca Creek, Roaring Plains and East Fork of the Greenbrier.

Writing a letter to the editor is easy and takes only a few moments. The key is to reference what you are writing about early in the letter and get to your point as quickly as possible. Long letters are often not published and in the sound bite world we live in, readers often loose interest if your letter is not succinct and to the point.

Write about what you know and avoid getting into speculation. If you don’t know the facts, don’t make them up. That said most letters are not about facts but rather your opinion and you should feel free to voice your opinion.

The important part is that you get the letter written and you send it in and once it is in you follow up with the editor. Editors will often send an email or contact letter writers to let them know they received the letter but they are very busy and sometimes letters fall through the cracks. Try not to over do it if they are slow in publishing the letter. Be sure to include your name, address and phone number. They will not print your contact information, but will generally verify it’s authorship before printing a letter.

Letters to the editor are a key component of any wilderness campaign, they help us open a dialogue with the community, get the attention of decision makers and advocate for our position. So if you want to help the effort, start writing ltes. Next time you see something in your local paper about our wilderness bill, send in a letter, either supporting something you red that you liked, or, refuting something you didn’t. Keep it positive and to the point. It will make all the difference. Below is contact information for some of our state’s more important newspapers.

  • Beckley Register Herald rhnews@register-herald.com 304.255.4400 PO Box 2398 Beckley WV 25802
  • Bluefield Daily Telegraph editor@bdtonline.com 304.327.2811 PO Box 1599 Bluefield WV 24701
  • Charleston Daily Mail dmnews@dailymail.com 304.348.5124 1001 Virginia St.E. Charleston WV 25301
  • Charleston Gazette gazette@wvgazette.com 800.982.6397 1001 Virginia St.E. Charleston WV 25301
  • Clarksburg Exponent Telegram news@exponent-telegram.com 304.626.1400 PO Box 2000 Clarksburg WV 26302
  • Dominion Post newsroom@dominionpost.com 304.292.6301 1251 Earl L Core Road Morgantown WV 26505
  • Elkins Inter-Mountain newsroom@theintermountain.com 304.636.2121 PO Box 1339 Elkins WV 26241
  • Grant County Press news@grantcountypress.com 304.257.1844 PO Box 39 Petersburg WV 26847
  • Huntington Herald Dispatch news@herald-dispatch.com 304.526.4000 PO Box 2017 Huntington WV 25720
  • Martinsburg Journal mlorensen@journal-news.net 304.267.2829 207 W. King Street Martinsburg WV 25402
  • Mineral Daily News Tribune michele@newstribune.info 304.788.3333 PO Box 879 Keyser WV 26726
  • Mountain Messenger ads@mountainmessenger.com 304.647.5724 PO Box 429 Lewisburg WV 24901
  • Parkersburg News & Sentinel editorial@newsandsentinel.com 304.485.1891 519 Juliana St. Parkersburg WV 26101
  • Pocahontas Times pepritt@pocahontastimes.com 304.799.4973 810 Second Avenue Marlinton WV 24954
  • Point Pleasant Register nfields@mydailyregister.com 304.675.1333 200 Main Street Point Pleasant WV 25550
  • Putnam Cabell Post dantyson@cabellstandard.com 304.562.6214 2085 U.S. Route 60 Culloden WV 25510
  • Shepherdstown Observer David@WVobserver.com 304.876.2414 P.O. Box 3088 Shepherdstown WV 25443
  • Times West Virginian timeswv@timeswv.com 304.367.2500 PO Box 2530 Fairmont WV 26554

Editor’s note:
In an obvious oversight, The Highlands Voice was not included in the list of “our state’s important newspapers.” Although neither the Voice editorial staff nor its readers need to be convinced of the wisdom of wilderness designation, it is included here, just on principle.

Highlands Voice johnmcferrin@aol.com 304 252-8733 P.O. Box 306 Charleston WV 25321

Written by Administrator in: The Highlands Voice |


By B. Dan Berger

She may be only 3 1/2-years old but she can cast her little light blue Dora the Explorer fishing rod a good twenty feet. How do I know? Because I occasionally hear the weighted red plastic minnow at the end of her line loudly whack the window of the front door of our small home on the river. It makes me proud and cringe at the same time. I run out of the house and gently turn her around and encourage her to cast away from the house, and I go back and sneakily inspect the window for cracks.

My wife Aimee and I have been taking our daughter Shelby to the North Fork of the South Branch in West Virginia since she was in the womb. We strongly believe children these days have too many toys, computer and video games, and of course, face-time in front of the television. Let me be clear, we too are guilty of all the above. But we also make a concerted effort to balance it all by spending a lot of time in the great outdoors that our Creator has graciously provided us.

Since moving from Florida to the Washington, DC area seven years ago, we have been coming to Monongahela National Forest, staying several times a year in the beautiful cabins at Harman’s. Now that we have been blessed with our own home just a couple miles up from Harman’s, we spend as much time out of the big city as possible; just about every holiday and weekend.

Shelby will come with me to the river and fish for a few minutes and then quickly become distracted by all the fantastically smooth stones and river-rocks under her feet. She will throw them into river until it is time to go. By the way, trout are NOT attracted to the splashing sounds of a child’s Roger Clemens-like fastball.

She will stand with me in the middle of the river and reel in the line on my rod. Unafraid, she will inspect, touch and hold the trout or smallmouth bass we have caught in these Potomac headwaters prior to us releasing it. And then she will quickly turn around and walk noisily through the water to shore and start whipping stones into the river that would even impress the Boston Red Sox. We are thinking collegiate softball scholarship.

And when we do watch television together, Shelby loves the ESPN fishing shows as well as the various episodes on animals or the incredible outdoor destinations on Discovery Channel. We talk to her regularly about the importance of enjoying the outdoors but also the necessity for its conservation. Proudly, she will point out when she sees litter and claim loudly, “not a very nice person has littered our mountains.” We pick up the trash and throw into the bed of my truck.

As adults, we have a responsibility to expose our young children to as many things as possible. And that includes not just learning the alphabet or counting numbers, but learning about the outdoors. One of my f a v o r i t e memories is watching my daughter chase fireflies, and occasionally, be successful in c a t c h i n g one. Gently inspecting the pulsating-lighted insect, then letting it go. Can’t do that in front of a television.

We regularly visit Dolly Sods and drive through Smoke Hole Canyon, and she is impressed every time as if it was her first trip. The trees, plants, rocks, streams, cliffs, waterfalls and long-range views. She absorbs it all in. As do her parents.

Although many of us volunteer and contribute to several important conservation organizations, we all must take the extra step and teach our children about the environment. So, turn off the computer or television and take your children or grandchildren fishing. You and they will create terrific memories together, and get this, they will fall in love with the outdoors and develop an appreciation for the beautiful world around them. And you can proudly know that you have helped to create the next generation of conservationists.

Dan Berger is a lifelong outdoorsman and avid flyfisherman. He lives in Cabins, WV.

Written by Administrator in: The Highlands Voice |


By Cindy Ellis

The board meeting of January 27, 2008 was held on a sunny Sunday at the Citizens Action Group office in Charleston. We had twenty attending, but snow in the mountains kept some folks away.

Treasurer Bob Marshall presented both next year’s budget and an end-of-year report for 2007. Program revenues did very well and a couple of unexpected grants were received. Our membership income was the highest ever. Hiking guide sales are good and the new book “Fighting to Protect the Highlands: The First Forty Years of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy” will be on tour soon with author Dave Elkin ton. The 2008 budget uses the prediction that membership is likely to continue to grow.

Mae Ellen Wilson reported on the efforts of the Endowment Committee to “put to work” the generous bequests we received in the past. She explained how our investment “ship” continues to successfully “navigate dangerous waters and how the “iceberg” of credit risk has been avoided by diversifying. The consensus from board members was that we’re pleased with the outcome and we should make no “course changes.” [Sorry about the excessive quotes, but a few of us were really helped by Mae Ellen’s nautical and other figures of speech in this report and the one at Fall Review.]

We were gratified to find that Beth Little does wish to continue in the position of Administrative Assistant. In her Membership Report she reminded us of processes for dealing with recruitment and stability of the membership roster. We now have members in all WV counties and in all the US states except Missouri.

Our phenomenally hard-working webmaster, Jim Solley, sent word that electronic sales are functioning well with PayPal.

“Send material!” was the word we received on behalf of ”VOICE” editor, John McFerrin. The board discussed our journal’s disclaimer box and decided that the message speaks for itself and is fine as is.

Julian Martin reported much positive activity from those working on Outreach issues, including trips to Kayford Mountain, and presentations with college and high school groups. Sales of shirts, hats, and stickers have netted nearly $8000. On the other hand, a newly formed “WV Environmental Education Association” may have been hijacked by corporate interests for their own purposes. This will be investigated.

Our Spring Review sounds unusually active and inviting. It will be held in Elkins in conjunction with the “Sustainable Fair,” an event of The Sustainable Living for West Virginia group. This could shape up to be a great Green happening for us in April. The Sustainable Fair will host workshops, 50 booths [we will man one], children’s activities, an art exhibit, a college-sponsored concert by the WV Symphony, and Sunday excursions [some to sustainable homes]. President Hugh Rogers promises that the last snowfall will be melted in time to allow us all arrive.

Bob Gates, board member and independent filmmaker, wasn’t sure if he would produce a film of the WVHC 4oth anniversary. But he did. Now the board isn’t sure how to share or save it, but will decide more at the next meeting.

A challenge was issued. Beth Little urged each board member to make plans to lead an excursion for the Outings Committee. Peter Shoenfeld hopes to re-invigorate our Outings offerings and the challenge came out of our discussion of that good goal.

A Public Lands Committee report was presented by Marilyn Shoenfeld on behalf of that newly-organized committee. They selected the objectives of developing a constituency and monitoring proposals for the Mongonahela National Forest. Then Dave Saville spoke of the victories and disappointments accompanying Congressman Rahall’s imminent introduction of the Wilderness Bill and credited Don Garvin with his helpful role. Dave urged the continued effort to contact the WV congressional delegation, including working on amendments to secure areas not yet included in the bill.

Members were also encouraged to continue directing comments to the management plan process in regard to wilderness areas in the New River Gorge area. It was pointed out that the group Christians for the Mountains have produced a video, “God’s Gift: A Wild and Wonderful Land.” Finally, Dave reported that the Red Spruce project has been so successful that an intern will be used this spring.

Don Garvin and Frank Young explained recent legislative matters. Frank pointed out the post-session timing of many successful efforts. He also asked that thought be given to evaluating our sponsorship of the WV Environmental Council; ”How well is this working?” Don praised WVHC support of legislative interim sessions as very helpful. He gave brief reviews of several environmental issues and pushed hard for board members to come to Charleston to personally lobby their own legislators on Clean Streams.

Cindy Rank sent a printed report of the multitude of issues being dealt with by the Mining Committee. She said,”Stay tuned to articles in the VOICE and notices on www.wvhighlands.org for updates and additional information,” as her list included these issues or phrases, “Massey, Selenium, Buffer Zone, Mercury Litigation, Clean Water Protection Act, Coalbed Methane, Slurry Underground Injection Study, and Blair Mountain.” She listed 5 recent books of interest:

“Moving Mountains” by Penny Loeb
“Strange As The Weather Has Been” by Ann Pancake
“Bringing Down the Mountains” by Shirley Stewart Burns
“Monongah” by Davitt McAteer
“Coal River” by Michael Shnayerson

Frank Young reported on the proposed TrAIL power line, which has met with deep and wide opposition.

Our final agenda item was the Wind Committee Peter Shoenfeld said that reports of additional proposals for projects continue to surface. The Beech Ridge project appeal may be decided in April. Larry Thomas presented a report on the Laurel Mountain project in Randolph and Barbour Counties.. There was a motion to oppose that project and soul-searching discussion ensued. We again spent much time on ”cultural attachment” and “special places.” As there is not yet a pressing deadline in this case, the question of our opposition to that one project was postponed until the April meeting.

Written by Administrator in: The Highlands Voice |


The WV Highlands Conservancy has recently hired Corey Bonasso as an intern that will provide assistance with the Red Spruce Ecosystem Restoration program. From Carolina, West Virginia, Corey was raised in the hills where he developed a great appreciation for nature and the outdoors.

Corey is currently finishing his final semester in the Davis College of Agriculture and Forestry at WVU in the field of Forest Resource Management. Corey’s interests encompass the entire system of living forest organisms, rather than looking at a stand for its board foot volume.

In the past Corey has helped organize students from WVU to volunteer a weekend in the spring to plant red spruce and balsam fir on the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The event has been a huge success that has sent over 10,000 spruce and fir seedlings back to their home in the mountains. This spring will mark the fourth annual WVU spring planting on the refuge.

WVU students gather each Spring to plant spruce on the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Corey is a long-time musician of many stringed instruments, as well as an aspiring potter. His internship will involve developing a Red Spruce Ecosystem Restoration Plan for Freeland Run area of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Additionally, Corey will help with outreach surrounding these efforts. If you would like to know more about our work to restore the red spruce ecosystem in West Virginia contact Corey at cbonass1@mix.wvu.edu.

How does Corey define Forest Health?
A healthy forest system is one that contains a diversity of plant and animal life with a species composition native to the area that finds balance with itself. Healthy life is that which has the ability to be sustained by its surroundings, recover from diseases, and have effective reproduction indefinitely.

Written by Administrator in: Forestry,The Highlands Voice |

Our readers write

The Promise of Wind Power
Dear Editor,

Has there ever been such a darn good anti-windmill, implicitly pro-fossil fuel article as the recent one in the Voice? All without bemoaning a single bat, bird, tree or view. And hardly a nimby in sight! (“False Promises of Wind Power,” Jan. 2008.) I can now appreciate much more the fluctuating solar & wind power impact on the existing power generation grid and system. It’s a fine analysis it seems to me, as far as it goes, but the status quo is accepted as a given.

The word “change” has been much in the air lately (along with the increased CO2) and somewhat paradoxically, if the fossil fuel power companies stay unchanged, there will be more “climate change.” Engineers love problems and almost never feel one is unsolvable. The technical expertise that developed the grid and the systems that eat mountains to feed power stations were all designed by engineers, and I’m sure engineers could happily redesign regional grids and power stations to smooth out the peaks and valleys of fluctuating electrical power, instead of the “coal fields” themselves as is now happening.

Transitionally, as solar and wind become significant factors, older, big coal fired sources might be retired and new more efficient regional “make up” plants designed and built. Peak power times might be devoted to new related industries capable of part-time Operations. These might include geothermal energy site preparation; preheating conventional power plant boiler water; pumping hydroelectric outflow water back up to the reservoir, storing some of that energy for gradual release as needed,

Rethinking our energy policy and fixing our infrastructure for the looming crisis will be a painful, long and costly job, maybe even more expensive just to get started, than the destructive Iraq War. Maybe even more painful. But if we could be talked into a ghastly and unnecessary war, perhaps with our new awareness and our new politicians and newly invigorated environmental organization we will be able to talk ourselves into a necessary constructive action. Someday we can take the pesky towers down & remediate the ridges, but putting back the mountains won’t be so easy, and it’s good to remember that we want to save the biosphere and not just the skyline.

Bob J. Baker
Spencer, WV

More on the promises of wind power
Dear Editor:

This letter has three aims: First is to remonstrate with you for publishing a tendentious opinion piece masquerading as an article on wind energy. Second is to rebut both the general conclusions and misleading support “data” in that piece. Third is to discuss what steps and stance WVHC might take on the issue of wind turbine placement in the highlands.

The author, Arthur Hooten, is identified simply as a member of the Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County and not as a member of WVHC. One might reasonably assume that FBPC is a group formed to oppose wind farms in Pendleton – fair enough. Except the piece nowhere addresses the issue of placing wind farms in Pendleton County, but rather launches a hamfisted economic and political attack on what he calls “Big Wind”.

The headline assigned to articles in a news organ is normally under the purview of the editorial staff; so I must assume that in using the headline. The False Promises of Wind Power, you not only think it proper to publish such a piece as news, but that you have checked its “facts” and agree with its thesis. Last I checked WVHC had no organizational position on wind power generally; so, you’re The Way The Voice Works disclaimer notwithstanding, by failing to label the Hooten “story” as pure opinion – facts not checked – you de-value the Voice as the legitimate organ of the Conservancy.

My distinct impression from reading the voice and speaking with other WVHC members is that many of us are conflicted about the issue of wind farms in the highlands. On the one hand we don’t want the landscape industrialized with rank on rank of wind turbines, while on the other we support the need to eliminate – or at least severely limit – mining and burning of coal to protect both the West Virginia environment and the earth climate.

As for Hooten’s allegations – the real big wind – delivered in sententious all-knowing tones, let’s begin with the technology of wind power which he terms new and unproven. Simply put it is neither new nor unproven. On a smaller scale it has been around for several centuries all over the world. At the present industrial scale it’s about 30 years old and, at an average generation cost of around five cents per kilowatt-hour, is economically competitive with virtually all new power generation, regardless of fuel type or motive force.

Hooten states that the variability of wind makes wind generation “not at all helpful to the grid”. Well the grids in Denmark, Germany and Spain don’t seem to agree. Wind energy supplies between five and 20 percent of the electricity in those countries. Further I am unaware of any objection to wind generation by the PJM Inter-connection, our own grid -and a huge one too.

Wind may be variable, but it is not unpredictable. Hooten must not pay attention to weather reports: they all predict average wind velocity over at least a 24-hour period and seem pretty accurate. Since PJM adjustments to load are done on almost a minute-by-minute basis, current weather predictions are quite sufficient to accommodate wind variability over a whole grid.

Hooten’s comments on capacity factors of wind turbines are at best misinformed or even cynically misleading. He cites a German utility study of turbines that “revealed that more than half the time they produced less than 11% of their nameplate capacity”. To begin with these are pretty vague figures: in my experience the Germans are given to much more precise numbers than Hooten cites. Capacity Factor is the ratio of actual production to maximum potential production, expressed as a percentage, over some time period -usually as year. While capacity factors vary among sites, a typical one would be 25 percent.

Hooten seems to be implying that turbine capacity factors are unacceptably low. Well if one assumes that “more than half the time” is 55 percent and “less than 11 percent” is 10 percent, then doing the math yields a capacity factor of about 50%! Around here that would be a phenomenal – even absurdly high – number, but in the North Sea, where an increasing number of really big five megawatt turbines are being installed, it could be actual.

As for subsidies, it is true that the Federal government subsidizes wind power, albeit to a small fraction of the extent to which it has long subsidized coal, nuclear and oil – over which it currently is conducting a trillion dollar war in the Middle East. Probably “big wind” doesn’t really need the Federal subsidy to make a profit, since it’s the cheapest source you can build today. What Hooten doesn’t tell us is that the biggest “subsidy” comes not from taxpayers, but rather from ratepayers who voluntarily line up to pay a one to two cent per kwh premium for wind generated power. We must thank Hooten for pointing out that electrons in a power line are fungible, that’s it’s a wise watt than knows how it was generated. So long as the utilities don’t sell more wind generated electricity than goes into the grid, what difference does it make where the electrons originated?

So what are the alleged false promises? Wind turbines provide the cheapest new source of electric power. They contribute virtually no CO2 or any other pollutant. They displace polluting fossil fuels in the generation mix. Up to a point we are nowhere near, they don’t interfere with grid operation or require additional spinning reserve. They’re a great investment. They don’t claim to look pretty, although some of us liken them to Brancusi sculptures.

It is interesting that Hooten, David Buhrman and others choose to attack the entire wind power technology rather than the particular projects which galvanized them into action in the first place. By painting wind power as an evil per se they divert attention away from the obvious fact that they are engaging in the age-old not in my backyard phenomenon.

Americans tend to feel very entitled: to have what they want and not have what they don’t want. What is presented as factual analysis is in reality a selfish and hypocritical diatribe adduced in the service of moving burdens elsewhere.

That said, there are some real issues that concern the mission of WVHC, the major one being esthetic. There are landscapes that none of us want to see festooned with wind turbines. It is very disturbing that the Forest Service, with little debate, seems to be opening its lands to wind farms. What are our options?

One would be to follow Hooten’s lead and develop a position opposing virtually all wind power generation. I have major objections to this option:

  • It would play into the hands of Big Coal – way, way bigger than “Big Wind” -especially in West Virginia. By refusing to accommodate that which could displace coal we weaken our opposition to the destruction caused by coal mining.
  • We risk politically marginalizing WVHC by being the perenial losing party in wind farm siting disputes.
  • We create a serious rift among the membership, many of whom believe that the threats of climate change trump – to some degree – any entitlement to a completely turbine-free landscape.

Another option would be to remain on the sideline and let the advocates and opponents battle it out in the PSC and the courts. I would find such an option unacceptable, since preservation of wild, undisturbed landscapes lies at the very core of our mission. We must participate!

That brings me to option 3: first create an internal capacity to address issues of site location, size and treatment. Next work to convene sympathetic groups to develop common positions on these issues. Finally work with all stakeholders such as the wind industry, PSC and tourism groups to gain protection we deem essential for the wild and wonderful places in our highlands.

Laurie Cameron

Fires in the backcountry
Dear Editor:

My name is Matt Kearns. Currently I live in New London, CT with the US Coast Guard, but I am originally from Cross Lanes, WV. One of my favorite things to do when I go home on my limited leave time is to hike in the Mon. I’ve had some fantastic trips over the past few years and I always look forward to the next occasion that will bring me home and help me reconnect with my native lands. I would just like to make a quick comment on something that frequently upsets me whenever I do hike in the Mon, in the hope that more attention may be drawn to this matter and more individuals might reconsider their backcountry practices.

For me personally, there is one thing (besides trash) that can really detract from a wilderness experience – fires. Seeing fire rings and scorched earth in campsites along streams and trails is tremendously unsightly. Fire building is contrary to the principles of Leave No Trace backcountry etiquette, and isn’t recommended on trailhead signs. I was very surprised to read trip reports posted in the VOICE blogs that frequently mentioned the use of fires, given that many of thereaders dedicate so much time, resources, and energy to preserving
West Virginia’s wild places. I will not belabor the issue, and I understand that we are free to enjoy our wilderness experience in any way that we like. I just ask that we always think about our actions in the backcountry and determine if they truly align with the practices of Leave No Trace and the design behind wilderness areas – limiting man’s impact in our most natural and special environments.

I love nothing more than spending my time at home in the forests of West Virginia and I enjoy knowing that my presence will be forgotten by the land soon after my departure. I hope that we will all continue to promote responsible use of our backcountry, preserving the natural integrity of our most favorite places so that we may share them with our children.

Matt Kearns
New London, CT

Mountaintop removal commercials bug reader

I can’t watch another one of these stupid Walker Machinery bug commercials without “going Elvis” and shooting my TV. Do they really think they can convince the audience that we’re fighting to end mountaintop removal mining just for the sake of Mr.Bug’s habitat? What am I saying? Of course they do. That’s why they’re running the ads. They do think we’re that stupid.

I want to let everyone know that the other habitat that we’re fighting for is our habitat. You know, those of us who live with a valley fill in our backyard, or a slurry impoundment hovering above our communities, homes and schools, or have lost our well water because of blasting. That’s whose habitat we’re trying to save!

Their attempt to trivialize our fight to save our homes is pathetic. So go ahead and spend that money on these stupid commercials. We know you’ve got it to spend. But most West Virginians are not that stupid.

James Tawney

Written by Administrator in: The Highlands Voice |


With assistance from the College of William and Mary, the Virginia Dept of Game and Inland Fisheries, and volunteers from the Three Rivers Avian Center, the National Park Service is fitting Peregrine Falcons with satellite transmitters. They can use these to track the birds from their release in the New River Gorge to wherever they go.

To see pictures of the birds as well as maps showing where each individual bird has been, go to http://www.nps.gov/neri/naturescience/ peregrine_2007.htm.

Thanks to Cindy Ellis for pointing out this site.

Written by Administrator in: Environment,The Highlands Voice |


By Don Gasper

Every 12 years Foresters assess West Virginia’s forests. The U.S. Forest Service has prepared a very attractive, informative and brief report from which this is taken, their # NE-INF- 152-04. This is a summary of that report.

Forests protect watersheds and their flows, provide opportunities for recreation in an aesthetic natural appearing environment, serve as habitat for wildlife and fish, and produce needed wood and other products. They have played a major role in our history and culture. Our public forests total 12% of West Virginia.

Forest-land Area Trend:

Today forests cover 12 million acres of West Virginia. They are not seen in decline. Increases have occurred steadily since some logging during World War II, about 1950. The increased forest area is due to more fields and pasture growing up than are being cleared. This more than off-sets losses from roads and development, mining, and logging. Of the forest that has been removed from 1990 to 2000, logging has removed 92%of it; this is twice as much as in the previous 10 years. However, growth is greater than removals almost 2 to 1. The other 8% of forest loss is due to land-use changes.

Forest inventory figures indicate that 76% of W.Va. is forested, and that this figure is leveling off. Only two other states have a higher percentage. Not all counties have the same percent of forest cover. Webster and McDowell are 93% forested. Berkley and Jefferson have the least, only 44%. There are 24 other counties between 80 and 90%. Our forests are becoming older and bigger. Today these are not only generally more enjoyable for hiking and camping, but provide food and cover, cavities and bark flaps for wildlife, nesting and feeding sites, and large dead trees standing and fallen.

The average acre has 14 standing dead trees, and 85% of these are from 5” to 12” in diameter. Today 70% of our forests average 10” in diameter with a stocking of 150 trees/acre that are over 5”. Forests have tripled in this respect over these 50 years – increasing in size, volume and value. Hardwoods make up 94% of this volume; the evergreen-conifers make up the rest of our forests.

Althugh our forests are composed of over 100 tree species, 15 species account for 84% of the volume. Yellow poplar leads with white oak, red maple, chestnut oak and northern red oak next, These are about half as abundant as yellow poplar, The oaks are declining; 50 years ago they made up 39% of our forest, today it is 34%. Oak accounts for about half the total volume logged.

West Virginia’s annual tree mortality is .7%, and it is the same in near-by states. Fire, wind, frost, insects, and disease contribute to mortality. Highest mortality rates are in the Virginia Pine – 4%. This loss they attribute to fire control and it’s being over topped and shaded. The beech is next with 1.3%. This average annual loss constitutes a reduction in important game food by 10% in just 10 years. The beech bark disease is serious. The chestnut oak has a decline of .3%, and further reduces game food. This is attributed to gypsy moth defoliation. Oaks are declining as mentioned earlier. Tree vigor is mentioned as a growing concern, but crown “dieback”, an indicator, was only 1% of 20% of the trees of many tree species that were sampled.

This report did not mention that a concern has recently centered on the hemlock wooly adelgid attack in the eastern part of our state. Mountain top removal and other mining has recently been responsible for much forest loss. Our high elevation spruce, where fifty years of Acid Rain has acidified and leached the substrate, is now a concern. Acid Rain has also affected our flowering dogwood – and our gardens.

This research report ends noting the recovery reflected in these figures. Forests are maturing in size and volume in spite of near doubling of timber harvests since 1990. Tree health is generally good though the introduced forest insects and diseases are a concern. Today West Virginia forests are playing an increasingly important role in the State’s growing economy.

Written by Administrator in: Environment,Forestry,The Highlands Voice |


A team from Marshall University is conducting a multi-year project to survey frog populations in West Virginia. It needs volunteers to help. Volunteers participate by spending time outdoors at night listening for frog calls. This information is very useful to our knowlege of the biodiversity of frogs in West Virginia. By volunteering, you will be assigned a route with a map and designated stops. Volunteers will receive training in listening for and identifying frog calls.

If you wish to volunteer or for more information, contact Amy Hamilton at hamilton16@marshall.edu or call 304-523-3925. Packets will be sent out early February to participants

Written by Administrator in: Environment,The Highlands Voice |

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