September is here and once again we will see the spectacular annual transformation of the mountains to the vibrant shades of orange, yellow, and red. It is very interesting to read what causes the transformation at https://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/fallleaves.html. For many this is their favorite time of year.
Once again, I want to extend my thanks to our members and supporters whose continued support allows us to promote, encourage and work for the conservation, appreciation, and ecologic integrity of the natural mountain landscape, the highlands of West Virginia. The issues are coming at us with lighting speed, and it is important we always remain alert.
Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards Project
The Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards program continues to roll along, as we start the very busy fall season, where visitation to our highlands will skyrocket and the already overcrowding at Dolly Sods is projected to accelerate. See the article in this month’s Highlands Voice for an update of the project.
Dolly Sods Wilderness Leave No Trace Hot Spot
The Monongahela National Forest (MNF) has filed an application for designation of the Dolly Sods Wilderness as a Leave No Trace Hot Spot. The Hot Spot Program identifies areas suffering from severe human-related impacts that can thrive again with Leave No Trace solutions. Each location receives a unique, site-specific blend of programs aimed at a healthy and sustainable recovery.
Since 2010, Leave No Trace has conducted over 100 Hot Spots in national parks and forests, state parks, city parks and more. Nomination would bring even more resources to expand upon the education plan, the reach of the trailhead stewards’ program, and generally improve conditions in Dolly Sods over time.
In the application the MNF identified their three biggest concerns for the Dolly Sods Wilderness: vegetation/tree impacts, camping impacts, and oversized groups. As a key stakeholder, WVHC provided a letter of support for the nomination stating WVHC was one of the advocates resulting in the original congressional designation of Dolly Sods Wilderness under the Eastern Wilderness Areas Act of 1974, as well as the Dolly Sods expansion in 2009 and our long term interested preservation of Dolly Sods Wilderness.
Monongahela National Forest Proposed Greenbrier Southeast Project
WVHC filed comments on the proposed Greenbriar Southeast project on May 15, 2020. An update on the project was received August 31 stating:
The Monongahela National Forest of the US Forest Service (USFS) completed our Section 7 consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on the Greenbrier Southeast project. This consultation satisfies requirements under the Endangered Species Act. This message is being sent to parties/groups interested in threatened, endangered, and sensitive species related to the Greenbrier Southeast project, and is being sent on behalf of Jack Tribble, the District Ranger on the Greenbrier Ranger District of the Monongahela National Forest.
The Greenbrier Southeast draft environmental assessment was released for public comment in April 2020. Several commenters requested receipt of a draft Biological Assessment (BA) to supplement the summary of impacts to threatened and endangered species contained in the draft environmental assessment. At that time, the BA was awaiting internal review and the USFS had not submitted the document to USFWS. Though the USFS did not expect any changes to the BA, the agency wanted to release to the public the same version that USFWS would ultimately receive and consult upon. The USFS submitted the BA to the USFWS in March 2021, resulting in multiple conversations between the two agencies. The USFWS issued a Biological Opinion (BO) in August 2021, concurring with the USFS determinations.
Design feature “GSE-4” was included in the environmental assessment for post-decisional botany surveys for threatened, endangered, and sensitive species. Since release of the draft environmental assessment, all botany surveys have been completed. This design feature has been amended in the Biological Assessment to reflect those completed surveys. It will also be reflected in the final environmental assessment and decision notice/finding of no significant impact, expected for release in Fall 2021. The completion of botany surveys constitutes the only change (besides minor editing and formatting) made to the Greenbrier Southeast BA from April 2020 to the version submitted to USFWS in March 2021; therefore, the determinations and rationale in the submitted Biological Assessment reflect those in the draft environmental assessment of April 2020.
Documentation relating to threatened, endangered, and sensitive species have been posted on the project webpage for your review (under the “Analysis” tab: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=55797.
The 32nd Annual Leaf Peepers Festival
Although the Run for It 5k/2k has moved to being virtual, WVHC will have a table at the 32nd Annual Leaf Peepers Festival in Davis, WV, on Saturday, September 25 from 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM. Tabling will be held in the parking lot across from Davis Fire Hall. Stop by and say hello to our new Program Director, Cory Chase, and our Dolly Sods Wilderness Steward leader (and local photographer extraordinaire), Dave Johnston! We will have WVHC stickers, books, and signup information for the Dolly Sods Stewards Program, amongst other things. Hoping to see you there.
The Charleston Gazette has reported that Covid-19 cases are on a pace to break the prior pandemic record. Please, everyone, be careful and stay safe during this coronavirus situation as these times are certainly unprecedented.