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State's logging industry goes unchecked
By Ken Ward Jr.
West Virginia loggers are cutting twice as many trees as they did just seven
But nobody is researching logging's damage to West Virginia's streams or
soil. No one is monitoring the way the cutting affects the plants, animals
and entire forest ecosystems in the state.
Logging operators do not have to receive state permits before they cut trees.
They don't have to consider public comment before they start a clearcut.
No one makes sure timber companies consider possible environmental damage
before they fire up the chainsaws.
The state Division of Environmental Protection regulates strip mines, chemical
plants, steel mills and dozens of other polluters.
But DEP Director Eli McCoy says his agency has little authority over loggers.
A 1992 state law gave that job to the state Division of Forestry. The agency
is also supposed to promote the timber industry.
Under the law, loggers are trained in suggested "Best Management Practices"
to avoid soil erosion or stream pollution. Loggers are not required to follow
these suggestions. The Division of Foresty can't make them, but can fine
them if they don't.
Before the law was passed, environmentalists argued that boosters of the
timber business shouldn't oversee loggers. They wanted DEP to have that
But DEP ignored even its legal mandate to annually study whether voluntary
logging best management practices work.
State Forestry Director Bill Maxey says the guidelines reduce soil erosion,
stream pollution and other environmental problems.
Since the 1992 law took effect, the forestry division has trained 5,000
loggers in safety and environmental guidelines. More than 1,600 companies
have obtained state logging licenses. In 1995 alone, the division investigated
577 potential violations of the logging law.
"We're not so naive as to think that everything is perfect," Maxey
said. "We have had some problem cases, and a few loggers have resisted
these new regulations. But the difference between now and five years ago
is like night and day."
Forestry division figures tell a different story. So does a failed attempt
by former DEP Director David C. Callaghan to rein in loggers.
DEP Swat Team
In late 1994, as new wood products plants continued to open in West Virginia,
Callaghan complained publicly that the state didn't do enough to regulate
"I think there are significant opportunities for environmental damage
out there," Callaghan said at the time. "We are deficient in the
total regulatory approach and have been for a number of years."
Callaghan proposed that DEP inspect 100 timber jobs and to assess the need
for more regulation. The study would, for the first time, meet the law's
requirement that DEP publish an annual report on the timber law's effectiveness.
Soon after Callaghan announced his plans, West Virginia Forestry Association
lobbyist Dick Waybright asked Gov. Gaston Caperton to call him off.
"West Virginia State code requires the Division of Forestry to enforce
the logging law and gives the DEP authority only if the Division of Forestry
fails to do so," Waybright wrote in an Oct 4, 1994, letter to Caperton
obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
"We ask that you stop this survey as it will only lead to additional
criticism of forestry and will be perceived (by the loggers) as additional
government harassment of small business."
Caperton didn't stop the survey. But it was certainly scaled back.
Three teams of DEP inspectors and state foresters visited 50 active and
50 completed timber jobs chosen at random from a forestry division computer
Between Nov. 28 and Dec. 31, 1994, the joint crews visually inspected the
operations to determine if logging had caused increased amounts of soil
to run into nearby rivers and streams. Inspectors did not take water samples
because they weren't given enough time.
The report concluded that, "based on this limited survey, there appears
to be few sediment impacts to streams adjacent to timbering operations."
According to the report, 78 of the 100 sites showed no signs of timbering
causing soil to run into streams. Of the remaining 22 sites, 12 showed slight
impacts, nine had moderate impact and one had significant impact.
"Some of the sites selected for inspection were located on ridgetops
or otherwise at a great enough distance from a stream such that they would
not be likely to contribute to sediment loading," Mark Scott, then-chief
of the DEP Office of Water Resources, wrote in the report.
Scott also said the report was, "limited by the time frame of the study,
the scope of the field inspection, the time of year the study was conducted,
the sample size, and the lack of comparison with baseline conditions on
which the streams were examined."
DEP inspectors who took part in the study were more critical of it.
Inspector Elizabeth Krafft said in a report to Scott, "While we
did not find any significant impacts while completing this survey, I am
not certain this survey is a true measure of the impacts.
"We were told to look at only haul roads and landings," Krafft
wrote. "Many times the impact would come from other areas such as skid
Inspector Brad Swiger, "Although erosion control structures are constructed
upon site closure, many operators are careless about maintaining these improvements
during logging activity.
"The simple and inexpensive task of revegetating landings and skid
trails upon closure is not popular among the logging community," Swiger
wrote. "Although this procedure is quick, effective, and aesthetically
pleasing, many operators fail to utilize this practice to reduce sedimentation
or improve public perceptions."
The forestry division issued a news release that declared the DEP report
showed "timber harvesting operations in the Mountain State have improved
substantially in terms of protecting the environment."
"This is especially true in two areas," Maxey said. "The
first is the positive attitudes of the loggers. Once they know what is expected
and required of them, 99 percent of the loggers have the pride to do a good
"The second area is very simple and is what the law was intended to
accomplish: We now have substantially fewer environmental problems, especially
less sediment in the streams, than in years past."
But the Feb. 27, 1995 release also said that 74 percent of the 502 complaints
about logging filed with the division in 1994 were valid.
Inadequate paperwork, such as problems with licenses, certificates or improper
notification of the forestry division, comprised 17 percent of the 373 cases.
Compliance orders telling loggers to fix violations of the law were issued
on 264 cases, or 70 percent, of the valid complaints. In 107 instances,
or 28 percent of the valid cases, the forestry division issued suspension
orders shutting down the logging job because of more serious violations.
Perry McDaniel, a Charleston lawyer and former forester, has complained
to the DEP and the forestry division about the study.
In a letter to Maxey and Callaghan, McDaniel complained about the fact that
DEP inspectors were allowed to look only at sediment impacts at the exact
time of their visits.
McDaniel noted that Swiger's inspection team complained, "loggers fail
to properly notify DEP of their operations as required by current law; a
statewide tracking system has not been established, thereby preventing DOF
from learning of the poor track record of logging operators; loggers are
taking advantage of landowners by high-grading the timber; roads are placed
without planning; and the trees left after logging are of poor quality and/or
McDaniel also noted that Swiger reported a healthy pulpwood market exists
near Morgantown. This results "in the overharvesting of immature timber
by operators with poor stewardship skills. Overharvesting also disturbs
the filterstrip and may cause significant elevations of water temperatures
in the stream," Swiger wrote.
"The public is well aware of the comments of both of your agencies
that the proposed pulp mill in Mason County will not affect West Virginia's
timber resoures," McDaniel wrote. "Such comments do not square
with the field inspections of your own employees.
"It would be expected that an honest assessment of the impacts of the
proposed timber operation would be completed by the end of 1995 so that
you may present changes in current timber regulations to the legislature
in order to prevent the severe and long-term damage noted by your inspectors.
There has been no other study. There has been no legislation proposed.
Write a letter to the editor.
Juggling the numbers
Eli McCoy, the current DEP director, was deputy director and, before that,
chief of water resources, under Callaghan
During a meeting in his Nitro office, McCoy handed a reporter a Post-it
Note that listed the number of complaints his agency has received about
The Post-it Note says that, of 5,865 complaints received by DEP since January
1995, only 28 specifically named logging as the problem. That's just
0.4 percent, McCoy noted.
"Go back five years and it seems to me that the number of complaints
about logging that we got was growing, as was the concern from our staff
about logging," McCoy said. "If [those numbers] are any indication,
it really hasn't been a major issue since then, at least not from a complaint
"I honestly feel that law they put in place has done some good,"
McCoy said. "And nobody is complaining to me that the Division of Forestry
isn't going out and doing its job."
Mike Zeto, chief inspector for DEP, said the number of complaints might
be so low because people now complain to the forestry division.
Even if people wanted to complain to DEP, phone calls to many regional DEP
offices go to consolidated DEP, DNR and forestry division offices. If people
mention logging, they are transferred to the forestry division.
The latest forestry division numbers actually show an increase in the number
of complaints about timber jobs. They also show an increase in the number
of complaints the division considers valid.
In 1995, the forestry division investigated 577 complaints about logging
jobs, compared to 502 in 1994. Of that total, 457 cases, or 79 percent,
were determined to be valid after the site was inspected. That's compared
to 74 percent of the total 1994 cases.
Inadequate paperwork comprised about one-quarter of those valid cases. Compliance
orders about violations of the law were issued in 287, or 62 percent, of
the valid cases.
In 153 instances, or 33 percent, loggers were given suspension orders.
McCoy said he doesn't know if his agency will comply with the law and do
an annual timber report before the end of the year.
"I hadn't thought about it," he said. "We'll look at it and
see what we'll do with it."
Waybright, the timber industry lobbyist, said his members still adamantly
oppose mandatory logging guidelines or further involvement by the DEP. "The
problem we have with that is that most of the [DEP] people don't know what
the BMPs are," he said. "They might see what they think is a bad
loging job and it's really a good logging job.
"There's always going to be bad loggers out there. You can't legislate
DEP officials say that many of their inspectors actually are forestry school
graduates with a good background in timber matters.
Wendy Radcliff, the DEP environmental advocate, said, "Not only is
DEP required by statute to do an annual report, but the February 1995 DEP
report outlines the need for additional field investigations on a regular
basis to more fully assess the impacts.
"The Office of Water Resources needs to fulfill its legal obligation
and complete an annual study and report," she said.
"However, the DEP should listen to the inspectors and the previous
study's inspection teams and allow them to develop a strategy for assessing
the impacts. I think that when you talk to our inspectors in the field,
who see timber operations on a daily basis, you will find a concern for
water quality impacts from timber operations."
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