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WILDLIFE PROTECTION AT STAKE IN CHEAT CANYON
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by Ben Mack | 2005

West Virginia conservation groups sue for protection of sensitive species located in the Cheat Canyon


Logging road are clearly visible in this view of the Cheat Canyon

While the wildlife protections that
many of us hold dear are often taken for granted, some of these may be significantly changed in the coming months. Perhaps the most notable of these is the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA provides protections for federally Threatened and EndangeredSpecies that allows these speciesto increase their populations by preserving their habitat. Here in West Virginia, we have many different species that are protected by the ESA. Two of these species are found in the Cheat Canyon in northern WV.

The Cheat Canyon extends for 16 miles from the town of Albright in Preston County to the Cheat Lake areain Monongalia County. This area is known for its vast recreational opportunities, including hiking, paddling, and rock climbing. The Canyon is also an extremely picturesque and ecologically sensitive area. It is home to the Federally Threatened Three-Toothed Flat-Spired Land Snail and the Endangered Indiana Bat.

The Cheat Three-Toothed Snail is globally rare, and is known only from a 10-15 mile segment of the Cheat River Canyon. It occurs in areas with rock outcrops (cliffs, talus, and cave mouths) and mature forest, generally feeding among leaf litter at night and retreating to rock crevices during the day.

The Indiana bat has been found in several eastern states, but its populations appear to be declining due to loss of prime habitat. Winter roosting caves appear to be a limiting factor, as the bat is sensitive to disturbance. Summer maternity colonies will nest in cracks in trees and under bark flaps, and may be found anywhere within 5-10 miles of over-wintering caves.


Effects of logging will be detrimental to wildlife habitat in the Cheat Canyon and water quality in the Cheat Canyon River

These two species are currently in danger of further population depletion due to the sale of the 4600 acre Cheat Canyon to Allegheny Wood Products (AWP) in the spring of 2003. The Canyon was originally owned by Allegheny energy, a local energy generation utility. Allegheny Energy put the Canyon up for sale in early 2003, and both the state of WV and AWP bid on the land. Bob Wise, the governor of WV in 2003, wanted to preserve the land as part of a better overall land conservation policy for the state of WV. The Cheat Canyon could have become a wildlife reserve to better protect the wildlife in this area, but the state was outbid by AWP. They purchased the tract for $9.1 million.

Both before and after the sale, AWP was told of the presence of the two listed species on the Cheat Canyon tract.  Soon after the sale, AWP approached the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for a “No Take” letter for logging activities in the Canyon. A “No Take” letter states that the owner of the land will not harm any endangered species in the normal operation of their activities. USFWS could not grant this letter because AWP could not prove that its logging activities would not injure the snail or disturb its habitat. USFWS tried to convince AWP to create a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). An HCP would allow AWP to injure a certain number of snails if the injuries occurred during the normal course of the logging operation. However, AWP was not interested in creating an HCP.

Due to AWP’s refusal to create an HCP, a lawsuit has been filed by the WV Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Cheat Lake Environment and Recreation Association (CLEAR), and the Friends of Blackwater (FOB). The lawsuit will ask AWP to formulate an HCP in cooperation with the three plaintiffs, as well as to cease all logging operations until the HCP is complete. The lawsuit merely asks AWP to follow the law, which they have refused to do thus far. For more information about this issue, contact Paul Wilson (pjgrunt@lycos.com) or Ben Mack (tristan24601@yahoo.com).

More information and photos can be found at the Friends of the Blackwater website (http://www.saveblackwater.org/cheat_canyon_home.htm).

 

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