By Ken Ward Jr.
Andy Egan is going out into the woods, trying to answer questions about the effects of increased logging on West Virginia forests.
Egan, an assistant professor of forestry at West Virginia University, is conducting his research with grants from the U.S. Forest Service, the state Division of Environmental Protection and the state Division of Forestry.
"It's a set of projects that focuses on timber harvesting and its effects," Egan said.
In one project, Egan asked how often loggers comply with West Virginia's voluntary best management practices for timber harvesting.
Egan selected 95 timber jobs at random and visited each one within six months after timber was cut. He looked at things such as if loggers seeded landings and skid roads or kept heavy logging equipment away from streams.
This study should provide information about the extent to which loggers voluntarily use timber cutting techniques that are supposed to protect streams and soils from damage, Egan said.
"It involved getting a good cross-section of the state investigated," Egan said.
Preliminary results should be ready next month and a final report sometime in the spring, Egan said.
Egan is working on another study that will provide long-term data about logging's effects on the environment.
Egan picked 40 future timber sites at random. He visited them and recorded current soil, vegetation, water and aquatic life conditions. After timber is cut at the sites, Egan will visit them again this summer and periodically thereafter, to evaluate the effects.
"We'll be able to compare the pre-harvesting and post-harvesting conditions," Egan said.
Such accurate data on logging's effects on West Virginia's environment is hard to come by.
The state Division of Environmental Protection is supposed to submit an annual report on the effectiveness of the state's voluntary timber guidelines. The agency has only submitted one such report since 1992. It was criticized as highly inaccurate by eve n DEP's own inspectors.
Meanwhile, the amount of timber cut in West Virginia has doubled since 1987 and is still increasing.
The U.S. Forest Service, among others, has called for more information about timbering's effects in West Virginia.
"Resource managers and policymakers, determined not to repeat past mistakes, want to make sure that renewed interests in timber harvesting adhere to principles of good stewardship," the Forest Service said in a December 1992 report.
"The Forest Service needs to keep close tabs on forest management activities in the state," the Forest Service said.
"Unfortunately, there has been little or no documentation of what is actually going on in West Virginia's woodlands," the Forest service said. "to our knowledge, no one has taken a comprehensive look at the character and extent of contemporary management activities."
The state DEP and the state Division of Forestry are both following Egan's work. DEP officials hope to incorporate it into their legally required report on the timber industry.
The Forestry Division noted in an October news release that Egan started his work in September 1995.
"The combined studies will provide West Virginia's forestry and logging communities, as well as the general public, with objective information on the broad environmental effects of this important industry," the Forestry Division said.
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