Public Lands are “Priceless” – by Matt Kearns

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photo by Adam Webster - at the confluence of Otter Creek and Dry Fork, Mon National Forest

photo by Adam Webster

On the first day of the 115th Congress, the House of Representatives passed budget rules that included a provision devaluing public lands. By assigning no value to federal property, Congress has potentially greased the skids for transferring public lands to state or private control — those transactions would now be considered “budget neutral.” Dolly Sods. Seneca Rocks. Cranberry Wilderness. According to the House, with support from all three West Virginia Representatives, these iconic landscapes are deemed worthless.

Really?

Our federal public lands have already been bought and paid for by the taxpayer. Look no further than our mountains and rivers for examples. The Monongahela National Forest was created from owners willing to sell logged-out property so the government could rehabilitate the land. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has supported over $182 million in purchases, including access along the Gauley and New Rivers and wetlands in Canaan Valley. As the result of foresighted actions like these, every American is now a shareholder in over 620 million acres of public land.

These public lands are big business. Congress commissioned a study to understand the value of outdoor recreation, currently estimated at $646 billion. Public land is at the heart of that economy; after all, who would buy new boots or boats if they have nowhere to use them? In state, the Monongahela National Forest supports 1.3 million visitors that spend approximately $82 million dollars annually. The New River Gorge National River provides another $53 million to the local economy. There is likely even more tangible value in the “ecosystem services” offered by public lands: much of West Virginia’s drinking water originates in the headwaters of the Monongahela National Forest — over 300,000 thousand people get their drinking water from the Elk River alone.

The return on our investment in public lands goes far beyond dollars and cents. A rafting trip with friends, a hike with a pet, a day spent hunting and fishing with our children — how can you quantify the value of those experiences and the feelings that linger long after? Or the connectedness and sense of place that public lands offer?  The “Mon” serves as a common denominator among hunters, birders, boaters, fishers, campers, RV towers, bikers, hikers, and climbers. We may enjoy the land in different ways, but every Mountaineer loves and takes pride in our public lands, the most “Wild and Wonderful” part about living in West Virginia.

The new budget rule isn’t the only attack on the integrity of public lands. Bills have been introduced to allow states to seize two million acres of national forests so long

as logging is the priority (HR 3650 & HR 2316). Transferring control of and developing public land is the stated platform of the party that now leads all three branches of government. Congress may very well have taken the first step in a widespread public lands divestment.

Loss of federal ownership could be detrimental to public land users like you and me. Federal lands are managed with mandatory public input and “multiple use” provisions that value clean water and recreation alongside timber and minerals. States often have different priorities. Western sportsmen have found themselves shut out of state lands following profit minded sell-offs. Because the West Virginia state legislature is prohibited from passing a deficit, selling or developing state land could become a quick fix for our financial woes. Mineral rights have been auctioned off beneath some of our Wildlife Management Areas.

President Trump has said we need to be stewards of public lands and it’s not something that should be sold. His pick for Secretary of the Interior, Rep. Ryan Zinke, is an avid sportsman who has spoken out against selling public lands — but he voted for the new budget rule. All Representatives from West Virginia voted in favor of it too. We must hold our leadership accountable. Tell them to protect our public lands from sale or transfer.

Because worthless and priceless are far from the same thing.

Matt Kearns is a veteran and avid outdoorsman. He travelled the length of the Elk River in 2015 to promote the connection between the Monongahela National Forest and our drinking water. Matt is a natural resources graduate student at WVU and works on public lands issues for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition. the Elk River alone.

Addendum:

Just weeks after Congress passed a provision making it easier to sell off public lands, a move to do just that was put forth by US Representative Jason Chaffetz (UT). H.R. 621, Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act, called for the disposal of 3.3 million acres of land for sale to non-federal entities.

The public outcry was enormous.  Thousands of people called their representatives and took to social media to express their outrage and rallied in opposition to the bill.  Thanks to the huge numbers of engaged, outspoken public opponents, in less than one week Chaffetz posted on Instagram his withdrawal of H.R. 621.

This victory is just one example of what can happen when citizens rally together and speak out; our voices are heard, and we can protect what cannot protect itself.  This will not be the only time we need to rally for our public lands, or for our water, etc.  We must remain vigilant and alert.  Here are a few ways to stay engaged.

Sign up for WV Rivers Coalition e-news (state and Federal updates, action alerts):  http://www.wvrivers.org/make-a-difference/join-us

Sign up for WV Environmental Council e-news (WV updates, action alerts):  http://wvecouncil.org/action-alerts-signup/

Join Friends of the Cheat and other groups for E-Day February 27th at the WV Capitol.

Join the March for Science on Earth Day,  April 22.  https://marchforscience.com

Contact your representatives:

US House: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

US Senate:  https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/


Reflecting on the successes of 2016 – and looking forward to 2017!

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Since 1994, Friends of Cheat has been working to fulfill its mission of restoring, preserving, and promoting the outstanding natural qualities of the Cheat River watershed.  As a supporter of our organization, you may wonder exactly what that means.  The quick answer is that without your support – your financial contributions, your volunteering, your help spreading the word about our work – without you, our mission would mean very little.  Our successes, our needs, and the river we all love – depend on your help.  Conversely, this mission is a reflection of the many achievements Friends of Cheat can accomplish with your support.

Over the years, the backing and financial contributions of supporters like you has ultimately allowed our organization to expand its programming and make impactful on-the-ground improvements in the watershed.  Today, because of you, we are engaged in all the core actions of our mission statement.

In just the last year, your financial contributions have helped Friends of the Cheat:

  • Continue maintenance and data collection at nearly 30 water treatment sites throughout the watershed by our expert team of water monitoring staff.

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  • Work with the WV State Rail Authority to purchase 8 miles of rail corridor from CSX for development into a non-motorized rail-trail along the Cheat River Narrows.  Also – the Cheat River Rail-Trail was awarded $150,000 for the first phase of design and construction!

 

  • Raise over $6000 through our Whitewater Access Campaign – which payed for repairs along Bull Run Rd.

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  • Promote Cheat River recreation with a very successful Cheat River Festival – save the date for the 2017 Cheat River Festival 1.5 – May 5th-6th – tickets available now!

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  • Organize the largest group of paddlers to float the river through the Meet the Cheat events.

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  • Build restroom facilities at the Doug Ferris Outdoor Classroom for Cheat Canyon paddlers, Allegheny Trail hikers.

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  • Partner with the WV Adventure Program and engage over 230 students in volunteer service work – resulting in $12,661 of inkind matched funds for our BSROP grant.

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  • Raise over $13,000 for the 2016 Run For It 5k in Davis, WV – and come in 3rd in most funds raised.

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  • Support the FOC CAPABLE program by raising over $3000 on #GivingTuesday.

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Other reasons 2016 rocked – FOC/DEPP partnership has been renewed for another 3 years!  We hired a new technician, Brian Hurley – as Jeremy Sidebottom left to further his education and travel the world.  FOC was named Top Water Conservation Group in the Southeast by Blue Ridge Outdoors.  

And best of all – The Cheat River was one of 2016 EPA 319 Success Stories – declaring the Cheat River “reborn!”  


EPA Cheat River Success Stories

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) featured the Friends of the Cheat and the Cheat River in a handful of publications in 2016.   John Capacasa, Director of the Water Protection Division in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region, wrote a blog piece reminiscing about his experiences padding the Cheat 30 years ago, and highlighting the successful “rebirth” of the Cheat River.  Even before the blowout in 1994, he remembers the discoloration of the river in sections.  He writes, “Though these were difficult days for the river, thanks to years of Clean Water Act funding and the cleanup efforts of a local non-profit group, the state and others, the raging waters of the Cheat today represent a major success story.  The orange scour still remains in spots, but the mainstem of the river has been restored – serving once again as a haven for whitewater rafting and smallmouth bass fishing.”  You can read the blog in it’s entirety here.

The EPA also issued a one page pdf in June – emphasizing the “dramatic” recovery of the Cheat River since 2000.

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Just last week, the EPA’s National NonPoint Source Program report was released – with Friends of the Cheat listed as one of the “Faces of Success.”  You can read the entire report here.

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Events Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Great Flood of 1985

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In honor of the 30th Anniversary of the 1985 Cheat River Flood, Friends of the Cheat will be sponsoring a spaghetti dinner at the Fellowship Hall in Albright, WV, across the street from the Albright United Methodist Church at 170 McCrumb Street, Albright, WV 26519. The event is free and open to the public..

The dinner is Wednesday, November 4, 2015, from 6:00pm to 8:00pm. Videos of the flood coverage will be projected for view, and local residents and business owners are invited to share their stories. At the conclusion of the event, Friends of the Cheat will lead the group in a reflection activity where everyone will be encouraged to write a memory or wish on a piece of “Flying Wish Paper.” Outside, the papers will be lit and they will fly away into the night sky. For more information, contact Beth Warnick at bwarnick@cheat.org, the Friends of the Cheat office at 304-329-3621, or the Friends of the Cheat Facebook group.

On Thursday, November 5, 2015, the Rowlesburg ON TRAC Community will be hosting activities throughout the day, starting with a groundbreaking ceremony at the Main Street Garden for a new flood memorial at 9:30am, followed by a commemorative walk from the Old Rowlesburg Church property to the River House Lodge at 10:30am. A soup, sandwich, and dessert luncheon ($5 donation) with live music and flood news coverage video will take place at the Szilagyi Center at noon. The public is welcome to bring physical artifacts to be displayed for the afternoon in the auditorium, and is also welcome to share stories and remembrances. At 7:00pm, there will be a ceremony of light over the Cheat River at the Rowlesburg Park, where paper lanterns will be released.   For more information, please contact Anna Nassif at annarnas@aol.com.

Also Thursday, November 5, 2015, there will be a remembrance ceremony by the river in Parsons, WV, starting at 6:00pm. A reception with stories from the flood will follow at 6:30pm, at the Tucker County Courthouse. This event is free and open to the public, and is sponsored by PRO ON TRAC and the Tucker County Historical Society. For more information, please contact Bobby Boggs of the Tucker County Historical Society at (304)-940-3301, or boggs1980@gmail.com.


Run For It

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Support FOC’s Team at the Run For It! 5K race

 

Help FOC bring home the cash at the Tucker Community Foundation’s annual Run for It race.  This year’s 5K race and 2K walk is Saturday, September 26 in Davis, West Virginia during the Leaf Peeper Festival.

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It’s fun and easy. You can enjoy a walk around the scenic town or join the competitive 5K race. No matter the pace, every step helps our cause. FOC is looking for runners, walkers, and sponsors. More than 100 cash awards – with over $80,000 up for grabs – will benefit our organization’s mission.

Help FOC Make a Big Splash!

Be a sponsor. Just Give Us 5! $5 that is, to help us reach our sponsorship goal of $1,500. In the fundraising world, there is no better return on investment, for every $5 you donate we have the chance to turn it into $15! Download the donation form below and submit to the Tucker Community Foundation.

If you are looking to add a little adrenaline rush to your donation or would like to participate in the 2K walk, you are welcome to join on our team as a true Friend of the Cheat!  Download the race registration below and join the FOC squad. Before you come down, check out the course map and read Executive Director Amanda Pitzer’s interview in the Tucker Community Foundation Annual Report.

Helpful Links:

For team sponsors

For online donations:  https://raceroster.com/events/2015/4874/run-for-it/charity/donate

For paper donation form:  http://www.tuckerfoundation.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/2015-RFI-Team-Sponsor-Request.pdf

For racer entry

For online registration: https://raceroster.com/events/2015/4874

For paper entry form:  http://www.tuckerfoundation.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2015-RFI-Entry-Form.pdf

 

Look at all the fun we had last year!

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For every FOC racer registration, FOC gets half of the entrance fee, so bring your friends and family!