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Manchin pulls support for national park

Almost as soon as it began, the federal government's exploration into a possible national park and preserve for West Virginia's Allegheny Highlands appears to be over.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin dealt the initiative a potentially fatal blow recently when he withdrew his support of the National Park Service's "reconnaissance survey" into West Virginia's suitability for a park.

Manchin apparently didn't get the right answers from Park Service superintendent Jon Jarvis. Manchin's Feb. 2 letter asked Jarvis to address how hunting, fishing and other outdoor and resource-related activities might be affected if 750,000 acres in and around northern Monongahela National Forest were to be placed under Park Service jurisdiction.

Jarvis' reply to Manchin was predictably vague. Here's the juiciest 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."

Notice that Jarvis focused on timbering and gas drilling. Manchin's questions had mainly dealt with hunting and fishing.

Sen. Manchin didn't appreciate Jarvis' seeming reluctance to address sportsmen's concerns. In a March 9 reply to Jarvis, he pulled the plug on the project:

"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 protecting important West Virginia pastimes and cultural activities. Therefore, I must respectfully request that you end this Reconnaissance Survey."

So the Allegheny Highlands National Park and Preserve appears dead, at least for the moment.

Changes in the political landscape often bring changes in policy, though, and if Manchin should someday lose his senatorial seat, its next occupant might well decide to support a park even if the park's effects on hunters and anglers turn out to be negative.

I don't believe that will happen, though.

Unless and until the Park Service is prepared to allow hunters and anglers the same largely unfettered access that they currently enjoy in the northern Monongahela National Forest, the reservations sportsmen have about the park will remain legitimate.

A few things are sure, though:

Any part of the area that receives full national-park status will be off-limits to hunting. No questions, no debate. It's been Park Service policy for a long, long time, and isn't going to change any time soon.

The Park Service currently considers stocked brown and rainbow trout to be "introduced species" in the Appalachians, where brook trout are the only true "natives." Park officials in Great Smoky Mountain National Park have gone as far as to eradicate wild, self-sustaining populations of browns and rainbows from some waters in an attempt to allow brook trout to flourish.

Even on preserves, which are generally open to hunting, Park Service officials tend to fiddle with regulations to attempt to encourage the harvest of certain species while discouraging the harvest of others.

These issues, among others, are what led Manchin to withdraw his support for the reconnaissance survey. For once, sportsmen were alert. They made their feelings known and Manchin listened. It's a lesson sportsmen need to remember when future issues arise.


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