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Election Called Good News For WV Federal Public Land Protections

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Public forestland such as Cranberry Glades is central to West Virginia's identity. (Mike Costello)
Public forestland such as Cranberry Glades is central to West Virginia's identity. (Mike Costello)
 By Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV, Contact
November 20, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With the elections over and deer hunters returning to West Virginia's woods, conservationists are looking forward to better prospects for public lands, thanks to changes in Congress.

The current U.S. Interior Department has moved to shrink some public lands out West, and Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said that casts a shadow over efforts to expand national parklands here in West Virginia. But, she said, when Democrats take control of vital committees in the U.S. House, she expects they will investigate and slow what she called the department’s attack on the public lands system.

"Selloff or transfers of public lands may not be as strong of a threat anymore,” Rosser said. “Hopefully not, because certainly our federal public lands here in West Virginia are part of our identity, part of why people come to visit the state."

The Rivers Coalition and other groups have pointed to new national parks as a good way to expand and diversify West Virginia's already strong outdoor-recreation economy. But the effort has run into resistance from people who oppose government land ownership on principle.

On the Senate side, Rosser said Joe Manchin's re-election is likely to give a boost to the Land and Water Conservation Fund - sometimes called the nation's most important public-lands program. The LWCF has provided $240 million for conservation of West Virginia's woods and urban parks, but the program could expire unless Congress acts.

Rosser said both Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito have voted for the conservation fund and taken other steps to support public lands.

"Funding and permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund that has benefited West Virginia,” she said; “and, more recently, Sen. Capito has introduced a bill to re-designate the New River Gorge as a national park."

One down side, Rosser said, is that she does not expect to see improvement in policies regulating pollution - especially from the energy industries - coming from the new Congress.

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