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Turning a Corner in the Monongahela National Forest Plan Revision Process
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by Anna Sale, Conservation Organizer | 2004

The Forest Service has laid out generally their topics for concern and their approach, and taken that to the public in broad-based outreach meetings. Now, it’s time for specifics.

It was nearly two years ago that the Forest Service first began the process of revising the forest-wide management plan.  The Forest Service is mandated to revise the “Land and Resources Management Plan,” or Forest Plan, every fifteen years. Since then, they have been analyzing the forest and identifying the major issues on which changes revisions will hinge.  The Forest Service has identified soils and water, remote backcountry, timber supply and vegetation management.

At six Open Houses across West Virginia in February and March hosted by the Forest Service, over 250 people came out to give input into the revision.  These Open Houses were set up loosely around the major topics the Forest Service identified, and gave the public an opportunity to respond to the broad management directions.  These meetings played another important role—they educated recreation users, hunters, anglers, and conservationists across the state about the arcane forest planning process.  It can be a puzzle of acronyms and catch-phrases, so now we have a larger base of citizens who are more familiar with the revision process and what’s at stake.

So now we are approaching a new stage in the in the forest plan revision process. The Forest Service has laid out generally their topics for concern and their approach, and taken that to the public in broad-based outreach meetings.  Now, it’s time for specifics.  We expect important documents—including the draft evaluations for new wilderness areas and the draft roadless inventory—to be released soon.  I encourage everyone who has an interest in protecting the Mon—if it’s one special place or the whole Forest in its entirety—to check up on the plan’s process on the Forest Service website at http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/mnf/plan_revision/plan_revision.htm.  As the Forest Service develops more substantive products, we have the opportunity to make more specific comments.

Frequent users of the Mon are in a unique position to evaluate these documents.  The Forest Service-speak can be difficult to translate, so keep two questions in mind as you evaluate the documents:

1. Do the descriptions and problems identified accurately reflect your experience in the Mon and what you observe as you recreate?

2. Will this result in greater protection or reduced protection for my favorite places?

The Forest Service accepts written comments at any time—call, email or write if you have a concern. Clyde Thompson, the Forest Supervisor on the Mon, can be reached at (304) 636-1800 x227, or cnthompson@fs.fed.us.

The WV Highlands Conservancy, the WV Sierra Club, and the Wilderness Society have been working closely with other groups to keep folks up to date on the plan revision.  Together we have compiled a list of what we want to see in the forest plan revision.  Email me at anna.sale@sierraclub.org if you’d like a copy or if you’d like more information about how you can stay involved and make sure strong protection is the driving priority of the Forest Plan revision.

In other news from the EPEC campaign:

  Instead of protecting streams, the Bush administration is making it easier for mining companies to destroy them. When mining companies blow the tops off of mountains to get to a seam of coal, they have tons of mining waste left over. The stream buffer zone rule, aimed at protecting streams from being buried by mining waste, prohibits surface mining or mining activities within 100 feet of streams unless the government finds that the mining won't adversely affect the water quality or quantity. Filling an entire stream with mining waste, as mining companies do during mountaintop removal, is a violation of this rule--but the Bush administration hasn’t been enforcing it.

After thousands of miles of Appalachian streams have been buried, the Bush administration is weakening the protections for streams instead of enforcing them. The proposed rule would allow mining companies to mine next to or through streams if they can show, regardless of the damage, that mining operations won't increase the mud and other mining waste within 100 feet downstream. It asks coal companies to minimize the destruction of fish and wildlife “to the extent possible.”  This proposal lets mining companies off the hook for dumping mining waste into streams.

This proposed rule change elicited a strong response from coalfield residents and Sierra Club members across the country.  Five public hearings were held through Appalachia on March 30, one of which was in Charleston.  Nearly 50 citizens spoke at the hearing, and only two—both folks who represented the coal industry--supported the Bush administration proposal.  It was an impressive display of citizen

  On Sunday, April 4, 60 Minutes ran their story on whistleblower Jack Spadaro, the MSHA official from West Virginia (see http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/04/01/60minutes/main609889.shtml).  Since the last newsletter deadline, in response to pressure from the Sierra Club and other groups, top MSHAofficials notified Spadaro that rather than being terminated, he would just be demoted and transferred out of state.  Spadaro won’t accept it and is continuing to fight.  Look for more ways to support Jack and call for the Bush administration to “Bring Back Jack!” 

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