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Cheat Canyon Settlement Reached; Land Set Aside for Endangered Species

Posted: 02/13/2007
by Charles Walbridge

A timber company planning log sensitive parts of the Cheat River Canyon has agreed to protect habitat for two federally endangered species. This agreement resulted from a lawsuit filed against Allegheny Wood Products in 2005 by three West Virginia environmental groups: the Cheat Lake Environment and Recreation Association, the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, and Friends of Blackwater Canyon. Allegheny Wood Products acquired roughly 5,000 acres in the Cheat Canyon from Allegheny Power in 2003 for $9.75 million and began building roads and cutting trees the following year.

On February 5th, the U.S. District Court for Northern West Virginia formally ratified a settlement that spells out a cooperative plan to protect the Cheat three-tooth snail and the Indiana bat in West Virginia's Cheat Canyon. Both creatures are on the federal endangered species list; the snail is "threatened" and the bat is "endangered". The settlement requires the parties to choose a team of experts that will delineate the preserves and buffer areas. The proposal also limits road improvements and requires Allegheny Wood Products to use temporary, portable bridges for moving logs when it can't cut trees without crossing a protected area. AWP also agrees to provide escorted daylight access to the protected areas so environmentalists can monitor the logging activities.

Initially, six preserves and two adjoining adjunct preserves will be set aside for protection of the snail on the north side ('river right') of the Cheat River. One preserve on the south side ('river left') at Cornwell Cave will offer protection for the Indiana bat. Logging can now resume. Within 45 days a panel of snail experts will be assembled "to determine on the basis of the best scientific data available the proper criteria to apply to identify potential habitat". This applies to areas slated for future logging. Seventy-five days have been allotted for the preparation of a report, fifteen days for review, and thirty more days to finalize the findings.

A "delineation team" will then visit areas slated for future logging to apply the results of the expert panel. Within 240 days, AWP and the three named organizations will seek the advice of the expert panel on further research projects related to the conservation of the snail and/or its habitat. Special provisions have been made in the settlement to limit road building on the Allegheny Trail that passes through the Canyon. This Trail will be opened again, although some limitations will prevail.

Paul Wilson, West Virginia State Chair of the Sierra Club, said "The Sierra Club believes that this settlement agreement may be as good or better than the protections offered by "incidental take permits" and "habitat conservation plans", as called for in the federal Endangered Species Act."

Judy Rodd, Director of the Friends of Blackwater, said "We are very pleased that there has been a positive outcome from our litigation and that good science will be used to set up snail preserves. We thank our lawyers and the many individuals who contributed to protecting one of West Virginia's most unique endangered species. Conservation of the unique habitat in the Cheat Canyon will also protect other rare species of plants and animals."

Duane Nichols, President of CLEAR, said "This is a "groundbreaking" achievement. A unique program has been structured to bring a systematic approach to bear on the protection of imperiled species on private lands."

AWP spokeswoman Donna Reckart said her company is concerned about threatened species and is pleased that the two sides could agree on a protection plan. "This gives us the opportunity to continue managing our property in the future, but also to protect those species," she said. "It shows that land does not just have to be locked up forever because endangered species are found on that land."

The plaintiff organizations were represented by Joshua Barrett of the law firm DiTrapano Barrett & DiPiero, Charleston, WV. He is assisted by Erin Tobin and Eric Glitzenstein of the law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, Washington, DC.

Contacts:

Duane Nichols, CLEAR
330 Dream Catcher Circle
Morgantown, WV 26508
304-599-8040

Judith Rodd, Director
Friends of Blackwater
501 Elizabeth Street, Room 3
Charleston, WV 25311
304-345-7663

Paul Wilson, Chapter Chair
The Sierra Club of West Virginia
504 Jefferson Avenue
Charles Town, WV 25414-1130
304-725-4360

Donna Reckart
Allegheny Wood Products
P.O. Box 867; Airport Rd.
Petersburg WV. 26847
304-257-1082


Charles Walbridge
Bruceton Mills, WV


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