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).