West Virginia’s exceptional natural heritage is boasted on every highway, two-lane and country road in the state: ‘Wild, Wonderful’ proclaims the etching on each car’s license plate.
Here, mountaintops spine through the state, hosting subalpine heathlands and red spruce forest. Clean, gurgling streams feed the rushing white waters that nurture myriad aquatic creatures, as well as the risk-taking spirits of many rafters. Spongy swamps, bogs and marshes sop up and clean water while producing nutrient-rich foliage for hungry wildlife. Beneath much of it lies a gaping labyrinth of caves, where blind, pigment-less creatures secret away in the damp, chilly air.
The Nature Conservancy has for decades worked hard to protect these wild and wonderful places, and the diverse plants and animals that call them home. But conservation in the face of development, climate change, and unsustainable natural resource extraction can be an uphill battle, and is destined to fail without a framework of legislative action to prop efforts.
Voluntary Rural and Outdoor Heritage Conservation Act
The history-making Voluntary Rural and Outdoor Heritage Conservation Act, passed in 2008, provides the kind of support conservationists need in this rapidly changing world.
In an effort led by the Conservancy, which researched, built a coalition and rallied legislative champions for the measure, the Act provides dedicated state funding for land conservation for the first time through the new Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund.
This Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund will protect the state’s special places, those that are, for example, defined by their rare species concentration, intact forests or exceptionally clean waters. An estimated $800,000 per year, every year, will be dedicated to conservation efforts. The Conservancy’s state director will serve as a member of the Fund’s board of trustees.
Staff and members of the Conservancy aren’t the only ones with a vested interest in the success of this program. The fact that the legislation was passed during the first session in which it was introduced speaks to the importance of West Virginia’s natural areas to its citizens and elected officials, who voted yes to make a dedicated state investment in land protection for the first time in West Virginia’s history.
Fresh legislation, the Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund will take some time to set up and frame. Future updates about the program will be posted to this page.
Forest Legacy Program
The state of West Virginia and the USDA Forest Service are working to secure a better future for the state’s forests, as part of the Forest Legacy Program. The program, which identifies and helps conserve important forestlands, celebrated its first success in early 2009 with the purchase of development rights on a 764-acre tract in Hampshire County.
The Conservancy has been working to support the Forest Legacy Program since 2004, when it partnered with the state-contracted Conservation Fund to help evaluate existing forest resources and conditions, and to identify threats.
Landowners taking part in the Forest Legacy Program agree to sell development rights, but are able to continue to own and manage the land for sustainable timber harvesting, the production of other forest products and the conservation of wildlife habitat and water quality.
An early 2009 congressional appropriation of $3.67 million in Forest Legacy funding ensures the continued protection of key forestlands—specifically in the South Branch of the Potomac River, where the funds are directed. Sen. Byrd and Rep. Mollohan’s efforts to secure the funding will result in thousands of protected acres.
As part of the program’s State Forest Stewardship Coordination Committee, the Conservancy will help identify top candidates for enrollment in the program, both in the Smoke Hole region and throughout the rest of the state.