I am a retired forester and a graduate of the WVU Division of Forestry (Class of '49) and worked for several years for land-owning companies in central West Virginia and for Westvaco Corp. at Covington, Va., for 23 years before retiring in 1989. I have followed the controversy involving the Blackwater area and Allegheny Wood products over the past several months with great interest.
It occurs to me there is much more at stake in this controversy than merely the harvesting in a responsible manner of some mature timber.
In the environment in which we all now live, a landowner/logger has at least two primary responsibilities that come with his operation. One is to ensure an absolute minimum of soil disturbance so no downstream landowner suffers any damage from the operation, and the productive capacity of the area being logged is not destroyed. The other is to harvest the timber in such a way that the timber stand will be regenerated and the wildlife and recreational facilities involved will not be affected any more than absolutely necessary.
I have not seen or heard anything that would indicate such standards are not being met in the Blackwater operation. (The use of helicopters to transport logs, even through criticized by some, ensures a minimum of soil disturbance and a minimum of time involved in transporting the harvested material.)
The real question here is just how much control others can exert over land they do not own by intense media pressure and numerous lawsuits. I have not heard of any offer being made to buy the land by those trying to control what is being done. The land was for sale when purchased by Allegheny Wood Products. Where were those then who are trying to dictate what is done now?
I own a few acres of timberland and I would deeply resent efforts by others to control my rights as a private property owner to cut trees as long as I meet the standards set forth above. The fact of the matter is I have cut trees on my property -- for construction purposes, for firewood and Christmas trees, among others.
The real overriding, all-important question involved in this controversy is simply that if others can control what is done in a responsible manner by Allegheny Wood Products on their property, then they can also control what I do on mine if they decide they want to. This strikes at the very heart of some of the basic beliefs held by citizens in this country and guaranteed by the founding fathers. This is what is really at stake in this controversy.