By Bob Weaver

A bill introduced Monday that would allow commercial logging in West Virginia's state parks as a way to pay for the park system's backlogged maintenance work has prompted nine conservation groups to form a coalition opposing the bill's passage.

Senate Bill 270, sponsored by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, and introduced at the request of Gov. Jim Justice, would lift a ban on state park timbering that has been in effect since 1931.

The bill would authorize the director of the Division of Natural Resources to implement a forest management plan for state park lands that "may include the harvesting and sale of timber" and includes requirements for such timber sales and the expenditure of proceeds from them.

The chief of staff for Governor Jim Justice admits state agency officials are dealing with a "big endeavor" when it comes to meeting a Nov. 1 deadline set by executive order for mandated full reviews of all existing state rules and regulations. A review of all state rules and regulations "Is going to be a massive undertaking," Mike Hall, with Gov. Justice's office.

The Trump administration has already rolled-back clean water and air rules, in addition to a number of health and safety measures for coal miners.

Additionally, the administration is opening up National Park Lands for drilling and mining.

Ohio is allowing drilling on National Park land.

On March 22, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will auction oil and gas lease rights for 2 parcels in the Wayne National Forest near Marietta.

The two parcels total about 345 acres in the Marietta Unit of the Wayne National Forest in Ohio.

The parcels will be sold in an online auction.

"Our WV state park system is in distress," said Jim Waggy, of the Kanawha Forest Coalition, one of the groups opposing the bill. But opening the parks up to logging "is worse than any maintenance backlog," he said.

"We stand to degrade our 'Wild and Wonderful' brand and make people think twice about visiting our state parks," Waggy said. "They come here for the beauty of the forests and outdoor recreation, not to hear chainsaws and dodge logging trucks."

"This is a statement on the part of the Governor that business is not going to be 'as usual' here," Hall said. "This sends a signal to the outside world and everyone else that we're putting the brakes on regulations."

The justification: "Outmoded, ineffective, excessively burdensome and unnecessary rulesÂ….have created a heavy regulatory burden on West Virginians," according to one of the orders and hindered job growth.

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