Commission wonﾒt reverse National Monument support
Anti-monument group says Commission wonﾒt reverse National Monument supportﾠcommissioners should have
listened to both sides
Although the designation of a proposed 70,000-acre National Monument might be months or even years away, the issue has become controversial, with hunters and property rights advocates crying foul at the Pocahontas County Commission's vote to support the National Monument idea. An hour of coaxing did nothing to sway commissioners, however, and the resolution of support remains in place.
Commissioners voted 2-1 at their June 5 meeting to sign a resolution in favor of the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument. Commissioner Jamie Walker voted against the measure.
Hunters said last Tuesday that the commission voted without hearing their concerns. Nearly a dozen people let commissioners know they thought that vote was premature.
Randy Sharp, who hunts, fishes and hikes the area, and knows the territory well, argued that the proposed monument does not conform to the requirements. Sharp, who said he'd been going into the Cranberry Backcountry nearly all his life, said nothing there has either historic or prehistoric significance. The Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorized National Monuments, also says a monument "shall be confined to the smallest area."
"I don't know how you can make a landmark by making a land grab," Sharp said. The Birthplace of Rivers National Monument would encompass what is already designated the Cranberry Wilderness Area, meaning about 100,000 acres of US Forest Service land would be included in the proposed monument.
Sharp said the Forest Service cannot manage the wilderness area for tree diseases and parasitic infestations, erosion and wildlife, and fears that the new acreage could not be managed, either. Further, Sharp said, the proposed monument might only be controlled by the Forest Service for a brief time before being turned over to the National Parks Service, which has much stricter rules for management and entry.
And while West Virginia Wilderness Coalition director Mike Costello has said a monument designation would bring more tourists, more jobs and more ecnomic development, Sharp said that outcome is the opposite of what a monument is supposed to do-protect the area.
"It's not meant to be a tourist attraction, it's not meant to be an honor bestowed on us," Sharp said.
And, Sharp said, designating this area, which is not unique, cheapens the concept of National Monuments for the entire country. Sharp acknowledged that certain areas of the country do need protection, but that a National Monument designation in hopes of an influx of tourists is not why the Antiquities Act was written.
"I don't know why we need a monument when we've got a wilderness," said Jamie Kellison.
Kellison said he agreed that the Cranberry Glades needs to be protected, but questioned the wisdom of a National Monument for the area.
"I'm not totally against it," Kellison said. "But I'm not saying I'm for it, either."
Cully McCurdy, who worked for the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources for 19 years and now works for the National Turkey Federation, said he disagreed with the procedure for naming a National Monument because the decision is up to the President of the United States.
"This is a declaration that bypasses...public input and the democratic plan," McCurdy said.
McCurdy said something in his workday usually concerns a national forest, either the Monongahela, the George Washington or the Jefferson, and he is currently working on a $496,000 grant for the Monongahela.
He asked commissioners if they know how a different designation would affect Payment In Lieu of Taxes funds, which pays the county for federally owned land.
"Do we still get our money if active management is reduced?" McCurdy asked.
Costello said the conversation was helpful to him and the process of determining the monument proposal's direction.
"There should be input from local stakeholders," Costello said. "This is all subject to further conversation and further negotiation.
All wilderness areas have to look the same, Costello said, but each monument is managed differently.
"The notion that we're trying to expand [the] wilderness is not correct," Costello said.
The monument is supported by both Trout Unlimited and the International Mountain Biking Association. Neither group favors wilderness areas because of restrictions against trout restoration and biking.
Costello said he'd rather have suggestions like those from hunters so that he could fold them into the proposal.
The conversation did nothing to change the minds of commissioners, each of whom stuck with their previous votes.
"I'm solidly behind the resolution adopted by the vote of the commission. I think it's an exciting prospect to invite the possibility that the President of the United States would designate a part of our county a monument to celebrate the natural, cultural and historical features," said commissioner Martin Saffer. "I think it would be an honor if that were to happen and I think it would have lasting, lasting benefits. I think over time it will stand us very well going into the future."
Walker responded with a speech of his own, first noting that he is the only native Pocahontas Countian on the commission.
"People comes in here and you continuously want to add stuff and change stuff and make more laws," Walker said. "There's somebody created this environment to make it the way it is now and it is not the people who moved in here. Whether you like it or whether you don't the people that's lived here for the last two hundred years is why the county is what it is today. And I think we ought to give them credit for it."
Saffer said he disagreed.
"That short shrifts a whole segment of this county who came here with open hearts and earnest hard work and who have a common vision for the beauty and respect for the culture and environment here," Saffer said. "Those people, as well as the people who were here before."
"That segregation is artificial and unnecessary," commission president David Fleming said. "We're all in this county together."
In other business, commissioners:
ﾕapproved hiring Robert Tooze as director of Pocahontas County Day Report.
ﾕreceived $766,508 in Safe and Secure Rural Schools funds.
ﾕdeclared the three local banks as county depositories.
ﾕappointed Fleming to the Region I Local Elected Official Board.
ﾕvoted to have the county's insurance accounts stay with Nationwide.
ﾕheard from County Health Nurse Linda McCoy about the requirement for seventh graders to have updated vaccinations. McCoy asked for funding, and commissioners agreed to pay up to $600 annually.
ﾕheard from Sheriff David Jonese about the need for deputies who might handle animals to have tetanus boosters, and to be vaccinated for rabies and Hepatitis B. Commissioners agreed to pay the deputies' co-pay expenses not covered by insurance.
ﾕscheduled a special meeting for June 28 to pay year-end invoices.
ﾕagreed to allow the sheriff to use the county's old 911 vehicle to help move animals to the shelter in Marlinton.
The commission meets again in regular session July 3.
Pamela Pritt can be reached by email at email@example.com