Are Prospects for a New National Park or Preserve in West Virginia Dead?

The Monongahela National Forest has many resources that attracted the interest of park supporters. Photo by *bjo via Creative Commons and flickr.

Late last year, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, asked the National Park Service to conduct a Reconnaissance Survey to see if certain areas in West Virginia "were suitable to become a new unit in the National Park System." Senator Manchin has now asked the NPS to end the survey and has withdrawn his support for "including these lands in the National Park System."

Why the quick change of heart?

Although the concept of a new NPS area in West Virginia drew quick support from some residents and organizations, the senator also got an earful from other constituents who were concerned about possible impacts on existing commercial and recreational activities in the area.

On February 2, 2012, Senator Manchin expressed those concerns in a letter to NPS Director Jarvis, and asked for written assurances that "hunting, fishing and trapping rights will be completely protected as part of any consideration for a National Park Unit in the Allegheny Highlands of West Virginia."

Senator Manchin also wanted similar written assurances that there would be no changes involving: state management of hunting, fishing and trapping; stocking of non-native fish; state control of "proper habitat management"; "proper timber management" using "all available techniques and tools…"; and potential development of oil and natural gas. Any acquisition of land, mineral or timber rights would be limited to "willing seller" transactions.

In short, the senator seemed to be in favor of a possible NPS label in the area only if there were no changes in existing land use or management practices. Most of the area under consideration for the study is currently managed by the U. S. Forest Service, where the activities in question are allowed.

In a February 28, 2012, letter Director Jarvis responded in part,

"You requested that the National Park Service make specific decisions about how the lands would be managed within this potential unit of the National Park System in West Virginia. Such details are beyond the scope of a limited reconnaissance survey; however, under National Park Service management policies, the continuation of extractive activities such as timber harvesting and oil and gas development would make the establishment of a national park infeasible."

Some supporters of a new NPS area in the state have pointed out that designations such as "national preserves" offer latitude for most of the activities that concern the senator, although others, such as continued commercial timber management, would certainly be far outside the limits of current NPS policies.

In a letter back to Director Jarvis on March 9, 2012, Senator Manchin said, "It has become clear from your response to these concerns that including these lands in the National Park System is not the best way to protect these resources while also preserving important West Virginia pastimes and cultural activities. Therefore, I respectfully must ask that you end this Reconnaissance Survey."

As a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Manchin serves on the Subcommittee on National Parks. Based on a long history of other park-related proposals, both the Senate and House typically defer to the wishes of their colleagues from the state in question.

Although the status of the current survey isn't yet known, does the senator's position represent the end of prospects for a new NPS unit in the area, at least for now?

Stay tuned.

Comments

Not dead, just sleeping. Manchin could be facing a pretty tough race, and supporting the park won't win him any votes he doesn't already have.

I wonder how many of those concerns come from the mining industry; mountain top removal has long been a contested issue in the region. I could see why residents would be all for a new park service unit, as opposed to a new USDA, BLM, or NFS unit. If you take a look at google maps (or any other map program that show satellite imagery), starting in Hazard, KY, and moving northwest to about Webster Springs, WV, you can see a lot of grey and white areas. These are actually mountain tops that have been shaved off to get at the coal underneath. Sometimes the land is reforested, but more often than not it sits bare to the elements, and local watersheds suffer for it greatly. A new NPS unit would protect remaning land while also creating new tourist-sector jobs there.

There are other designations that can be applied. Point Reyes National Seashore wasn't proposed as a "national park" because the impetus for its creation was to preserve the historic cattle ranches and to prevent housing development. Hunting was specifically included as a permissable use, although there currently is no public hunting allowed in the park.

Honestly - I enjoy NPS lands, but I do agree that sometimes there are places that should remain under the care of other agencies where traditional uses should be allowed to continue. NPS has its place in federal land management, as does the Forest Service, BLM, and USFWS. There are extractive and recreational uses that are incompatible with the NPS mission, and frankly I see nothing wrong with the NPS mission or extractive uses. As much as many would like to think they have little impact on federal lands, we all are users of forest products and minerals extracted from federal lands, whether it's electrons traveling through copper in wire extracted from BLM land in Utah, or the paper we use being made from pulp extracted from FS land in Washington state.

We will continue to see hostility of NPS land acquisitions/creating of new NPS units as long as NPS continues to be anti-hunting, fishing, etc. I completely agree that NPS units should not be logged or mined. There are several lands currently held by the other agencies that could probably do well under NPS jurisdiction, for example Mt St Helens Natl Volcanic Monunment which is currently under USFS jurisdiction. There have been several attempts to move the area to the NPS, however the big pushback has been hunting and snowmobile use.

If the NPS came out and on day #1 of planning process and said that hunting, fishing, and snowmobile within the monument would not change under NPS jurisdiction then I guarantee there will not be as much hostility.

Why is there such a big push to make every new addition to the NPS an actual Park? Why not Natl Preserves or Natl Rec Areas? There are many people that don't know they are on NRA's simply because they don't have the strict regulations like parks.

Anonymous, the NPS certainly is not against fishing, and hunting is allowed in national preserves. Snowmobile use, though, is a tougher issue, though it's allowed in some parks (Yellowstone, most notably, as well as Voyageurs).

Over the years there has been a lot of proposals to transfer one piece of federal land to a different agency. There have been proposals to have one unified land management agency by moving the Forest Service from USDA to the Interior Dept. Honestly - I don't quite get how the Forest Service ever ended up being an "agricultural" agency. Their mission always seemed more like that of the BLM, while the rest of the USDA seemed more about farming and food production.

That being said, I've said before that I thought not all public lands need to be part of NPS. There are people who enjoy hunting and plinking, as well as those who enjoy getting a Christmas tree cutting permit every year. It certainly sounds to me that if the local input is that they'd like to maintain their traditional uses, maybe that shouldn't change.

This seems like another sad case of confusion over the ambiguous term "National Park" as meaning both one of the 58-designated "National Parks" and as one of the "397 Units of the National Park System." From the exchange of letters between Sen. Manchin and Director Jarvis, it sure sounds like an awful lot of the concerns could have been assuaged be specifying that the Reconaissance Study would have specifically looked at the possibility of designating a High Allegheny National Preserve or High Allgeheny National Park & Preserve, and not just the possibility of designating a High Allegheny National Park. Its a really shame that more was not done to bridge this gap and keep this process moving forward.

Even if it is a "National Preserve", they're not going to allow most of the commercial mining and timber harvests that would still be allowed under Forest Service control. Basically what they're asking for is NPS levels of funding, but without typical NPS restrictions.

However, apparently WV stocks local waterways with "non-native" trout, much like what's done in lakes I know in other national forests. That still won't happen in a national preserve under NPS control. Also - while fishing itself would probably be allowed, I'm thinking that the maintenance of dirt roads to fishing spots may be an issue.

This is silly. Manchin obviously should have done a little homework on land designations before requesting such a thing. It seems he just wants the name "National Park" but none of the land/resource uses and restrictions that go along with it. I like Director Jarvis's response. He was probably dying to respond "Are you seriously asking this question?".