CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice defended a bill Monday that calls for timbering in state parks, saying the bill's intention is to take care of maturing forests and expand recreational opportunities.
Senate Bill 270 was introduced last week at the governor's request. It allows the director to implement a silvicultural management plan for state parks. The director may select and sell timber located on state park lands as part of that plan.
Under the bill, any timber harvesting shall not exceed the average of four trees per acre per tract and not more than half of the merchantable timber volume of the acre. The bill currently is before the Senate Committee on Natural Resources.
The legislation has stirred debate. Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt recently spoke against the bill, calling it “poorly thought-out with little foresight.”
State conservation groups as well as private citizens have already expressed concerns with the plan as well, forming a campaign called Save Our State Parks.
In a Monday news release, Justice said opponents aren't well informed on what the bill intends to accomplish.
“The facts are we need to do a better job managing these forest lands within our state parks,” Justice said in the release. “If we don't, wildlife species will continue to decline, substantially. The trees won't bear fruit, the wildlife will die a brutal death or leave to find food in other locations. There will be few birds, and the potential for wildfires to ravage these areas increases dramatically.”
Justice said he is confident the Division of Forestry, state foresters, the Division of Natural Resources and the State Park superintendents will come up with the right plan.
“Once we do some very selective cuts, then those log roads can be converted into trails and provide better access for visitors,” Justice said.
Justice criticized opposition of the bill, saying they have used scare tactics and untruths to make people think it's clear-cutting timber.
“We are not cutting away any pristine forests,” Justice said. “For years, these lands have been under-managed and we just can't continue to operate that way. This is a conservation effort designed to restore and improve the health of our state park lands. Those who are claiming anything else just don't know what they are talking about. Again, these efforts will substantially increase all wildlife species.”
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