National Park Service Pushing Land Grab

By Bill Horn, Director of Federal Affairs

The National Park Service (NPS) is eyeing important hunting lands for inclusion in a large new West Virginia park unit.  Apparently the agency is looking at establishing this new unit – the High Allegheny National Park — in the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia.  Most of the land under review is presently part of the Monongahela National Forest and Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge – both of which have long hunting traditions.  I have hunted ruffed grouse, woodcock, and turkeys in these areas for years, and just last year I wrote an article in The Pointing Dog Journal about the rich hunting history of this area.

Hunters and anglers need to watch this park study, and NPS, like a hawk.  The agency is historically hostile to hunters, becoming increasingly hostile to anglers, and is flat out opposed to wildlife and habitat management (both activities are important on Forest and Refuge lands).  Plus, almost all NPS units are “parks” where hunting is prohibited. Having NPS take over management of wonderful hunting areas within the Forest, like Spruce Knob and Dolly Sods, sends shivers down this hunter’s spine.

Some park proponents are already trying to assure hunters that hunting will be protected in the new park.  I’m not buying it.  We have seen the value of similar promises in the Big Cypress National Preserve (a NPS unit) in Florida where hunters have been harassed and systematically restricted for years.  Even when the agency isn’t doing the restricting, anti-hunting activists are in federal court every other year pushing new limitations in the name of endangered species, wilderness “solitude”, protection of vegetation, and adverse impact on the tender aesthetic sensibilities of non-hunting visitors (of whom there are few).

Even stronger legal protections for hunting on Refuge lands have barely been adequate to protect hunting. Antis tried to shut down hunting in the Canaan Valley Refuge via a federal lawsuit filed in Washington, DC.  U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance helped fight off that suit, but it revealed that saving hunting on federal land units remains a challenge. Similar problems impacting hunting and wildlife management on Forest lands has prompted USSA and others in the hunting community to push for the enactment of new a bill – HR 2834 – that keeps hunting (and fishing and shooting) open on the National Forest system.

Recently, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee favorably reported the bill which should be on the House of Representatives floor in January. If we can barely protect hunting on the Canaan unit, where a 1997 law makes hunting (and fishing) “priority public uses”, and need new statutory protections for hunting on Forest lands (like the Monongahela), how are we going to ensure continued hunting and access on a new High Allegheny National Park?

None of this makes on-the-ground sense. The thousands of acres of public land within the Monongahela National Forest, and the Canaan Refuge, are committed to conservation (and open to hunting). The lands are subject to professional habitat management by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources.

You can kiss bona fide conservation management, and habitat projects, goodbye if NPS takes over.  It treats lands like “biospheres under glass” where management to help fish and wildlife is considered a sin against nature and hunters are surely not welcome. As far as hunters and anglers are concerned, bringing in NPS adds absolutely nothing and guarantees nothing but protracted fighting to retain the hunting heritage in West Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains.

USSA will be monitoring this closely because of its broad consequences for hunters and anglers (and because I don’t want some of the East’s favorite grouse hunting woods under NPS control).

18 thoughts on “National Park Service Pushing Land Grab

  1. Possibly unwavering opposition should begin now or at least an education program targeted to hunters in the region of this latest NPS attempt to gain more control.

  2. here in pa and nj we havethe delaware watergap national recreation area and there’s a move to rename it a national preserve.

    nps superintendant john donahue promises that the name change will not affect hunting. I don’t buy it.

  3. Bill Horn couldn’t have stated the issue better. Trusting the NPS with more land in West Virginia would be irresponsible. Ask the hunters down along the New River National Scenic River their views of the NPS (they can now hunt there after Congress renewed the charter from “may allow hunting” to “shall allow” but it took an Act of Congress after bitter public meetings). I believe this is really just a way for some folks to attempt a take away of John Crites’ land in the Blackwater Canyon by eminent domain. Remember the USFS does not use eminent domain but the NPS does! Some environmental organizations are already attempting to prevent the stocking of brown trout in these areas because they see Brown Trout as an “invasive species”. The Monongahela National Forest should remain a multiple-use land not a new national park. Hunters, anglers, trappers beware. Mr. Horn has forewarned you of the danger. What was Senator Manchin thinking?

    • This area of the Mon. National Forest is a mature hard wood forest that if turned into a National Park will DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. All forms of birds and wildlife will no longer live. Without forest management ( timbering) life does not go on, and the educated people of the country know that you can not go to WalMart and buy hamburger where it is made like some people think.

      Jim Lemons

  4. Maybe hunters will start to open their eyes and realize that we can easily be outnumbered. Most of them still don’t get it. They don’t believe our traditions are under attack or being threatened or in this case, simply disregarded.

  5. I am troubled by your headline. As you say, most of the land in question is already owned by the American People. How is transferring it from one agency to another a “grab”?

  6. In reply to Mr Curtis let me say from experience that is a “grab” to implement heavy restrictions upon activities. NPS has what is called an Organic Act of 1916 (a Federal Law) that states NPS’s main function is to preserve everything natural and man’s activities are not included in that statement – only natural things are.
    Enviro-extremists will attack and beat NPS (as they did in Big Cypress National PRESEERVE) if and when they try to accommodate hunting, ORV access etc.
    In reply to Chuck Lombaerde, let me tell you one big fact about Superintendent Donahue – told me face to face that he is a serious proponent of “The Wild Lands Project” that intends to put as much land off limits to humans as possible. Oh, don’t believe me – go google it. Mr Donahue accomplished that in Big Cypress National Preserve via the National Park Service ORV Plan of 2000 in South Florida. IMO he is a curse upon public access, hunting as well as all human endeavors and is never to be believed when making promises about more access. A reasonable Superintendent was removed from Big Cypress when DC saw our plan wasn’t going the way they wanted then they installed hatchetman Donahue who believed in doing exactly what his handlers wanted done. Tatto this on the inside of your eye lid – John Donahue received an award from the Humane Society of the United States for the screw job he put on us in the Big Cypress – that’s the kind of guy he is and he ain’t stupid.
    Any Federal enabling act for an NPS managed National Preserve would need air tight language in it mandating NPS to allow of hunting, fishing, ORV’s etc. with technical specifications pertaining to all management (e.g. number of hunt days, hunters/ORV’s allowed in etc.) otherwise you are in for a never ending struggle that will wear everyone out to the point where they go elsewhere as is happening in Big Cypress Nat. Preserve.
    Not to brag but I know exactly what I am talking about here since I have been involved deeply almost full time in this Big Cypress/NPS issue for 15 years.
    If you allow NPS in your region you will go through HELL.
    In the event NPS does invade and occupy your region everyone better study diligently and comment very precisely and accurately as to what you want NPS to do. The NEPA comment process can be used to ones advantage but whining comments like “we want to do what we’ve always done” will be useless. Study NPS’s system and incorporate it into your comment strategies. I suggest a few trusted organizational leaders that have the time to seriously study the details then many others (I mean hundreds) have to comment in a unified manner exactly as they are directed to by the few who have done the studying without arguing with them. Enviros will be doing the same.

  7. It seems to me that the groups pushing for this National Park are trying to preserve as much of the heritage of the area as possible. Has anyone contacted them or talked to them? Maybe if everyone worked together the outcome would be better. Does anyone know if these groups are open to that?

    • No talking this time….they pushed the wilderness areas down our (sporting men and women’s) throat the last time. Just give us 10% of the Monongahela for eastern wilderness they said…more than the USFS wanted to give up….more than the sporting groups, but they got Nick Joe Rahall to sponsor the bill and Senator Rockefeller to go against the DNR and USFS recommendations. Now they want to take land by eminent domain through the National Park Service and turn 750,000 acres into the same as wilderness with a National Park.

  8. “Land Grab”, the perfect title. The NPS has a history of this country wide. Being a member of the NWTF our motto is Hunt,Conserve,Share something that will be completely abolished if the NPS gets their hands on this land. Someone asked,”What was Joe Manchin thinking?” obviously he was not. We need to flood his office with all the opposition we can muster. If he is for WV and conservation as he says he is then maybe we can put a stop to this.

  9. Wouldn’t converting to a National Park protect those areas from timbering and coal, oil and gas exploration?

    If hunting rights could be preserved then converting to a national park and protecting the land from development that would destroy the game habitat could be a win/win.

    I’ve had the experience of having my favorite hunting grounds timbered and mountaintop mined and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

    • No Jim it would not. Timbering is a much needed habitat management tool for wildlife. I know that the environmentalist don’t believe that but with Hemlock Wooley Adelgid, Gypsy Moth, Beech Bark disease and Emerald Ash Borers the trees actually need harvested. Timbering allows more sunlight to reach the forest floor to allow for more herbaceous plants that wildlife need for sustenance. The ruffed grouse, woodcock, wild turkey, whitetail deer and 60 some species of song birds are sorely in need of early successional habitat, including all the warbler species. All wild cherry trees die at around 125 years of age. We have huge amounts of them now that are going to rot because they are in MP 6.2 areas on the Mon National Forest. Tens of millions of dollars of wild cherry wood rotting! Bobwhite quail are almost extinct because we have more forested land than grasslands to support the bobwhite. Show me where they timbered and in 6 years I will show you some of the best hunting for every species I listed above and a more diverse habitat of plants and animals than you will find in any wilderness area. Deer need browse; turkeys and grouse poult need savannahs for their young poults to survive. Some of the best hunting now is along gas well roads and pipe lines. I know timbering looks bad for a few years but the hardwoods all come back off the root stock or from mast that begins to grow at an exceptional rate. In fact young trees sequester carbon at a faster rate than mature trees (growing quicker sequesters the carbon in the timber), but you will never hear that from the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club and some others. But don’t believe me…go to the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy for the truth about early successional habitat in our nation’s forest. Nobody is going to mountain top mine the Monongahela National Forest.

  10. “Game is a phenomenon of edges. It occurs where the types of food and cover which it needs come together, i.e., where their edges meet…We do not understand the reason for all of these edge effects, but in those cases where we can guess the reason, it usually harks back either to the desirability of simultaneous access to more than one environmental type, or the greater richness of border vegetation, or both.” (Aldo Leopold) Biodiversity of habitat is now understood by wildlife managers. Although a Sand County Almanac may have been read by countless environmentalists, their ideologies show the lack of Leopold’s understanding that MAN can not be taken out of management. This is why preserves and parks, in the eastern United States are seeing such a loss of early successional habitat and therefore the species of birds and game dependent on this habitat. This, in and of itself, is enough reason to oppose the National Park but my biggest fear is the threat of the taking of private property under the auspices of eminent domain including the safety zones and Endangered Species Act takings lawsuits that will become a source of constant threats to hunters even if Senator Manchin can “insert” hunting into NPS rules for this idiotic proposal. The National Park Service hasn’t enough money in it’s budget to take care of the Parks they now have…if the USFS doesn’t want the land in the Monongahela National Forest then give it back to the state. The WV-DNR already has wildlife managers stationed throughout the Forest. County Commissioners had better speak out to the Senator about this proposal because the NPS does not pay taxes nor reimburse for tax loss under the Rural Schools Act. Admit it Senator….this was a BAD IDEA!

  11. Pingback: Friends of the Maine Woods » Maine Park and Unfettered Access » Friends of the Maine Woods

  12. I agree with Bill Horn’s concerns 100%. I am very familiar with all of the area under consideration for this park. As a property owner in the vicinity the potential for restrictions on private land usage is enormous – aka Adirondack Park in NY. This is exactly a land grab pushed by the preservation crowd. I will campaign against this proposal

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