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 Senator Manchin has now asked the NPS to end the survey and has withdrawn his support for "including these lands in the National Park System."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?