In May of 2012 the West Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited passed a resolution of support for the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument concept based on certain contingencies. This document is available online at wvtu.org and shows how we decided to become a collaborating organization in this advocacy in order to make sure that any proposal placed emphasis on access for trout restoration activities as well as to advocate for continued fisheries management by the WVDNR and USFS. Over the past year, WVTU has lobbied for this National Monument in order to protect some of our most idyllic trout waters in perpetuity.
With headwaters and tributaries of the Cranberry, Cherry, Gauley, Elk, Williams and Greenbrier Rivers in its potential boundaries, the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument would preserve one of our core trout fishing experiences for future generations, and would protect access for sportsmen to continue the traditions of hunting, fishing and trapping. This area is one of the most important landscapes for Mountain State’s sportsmen, and we share a desire to keep the area just like it is, to be able to pass on our hunting and angling traditions to future Mountaineers. However, potential changes at the hands of the federal government threaten to change the ways these lands are enjoyed in the future. This Monument is proposed to ensure that restoration of streams and forests, as well as preservation of wild places like Tea Creek Backcountry will continue in perpetuity, preventing future administrations from making any changes that may cause negative impacts to fish and wildlife as well as sportsmen access.
There are no USFS National Monuments in the eastern US, so of course there are some misunderstandings and curiosities about what the designation means. Each National Monument in the US is managed differently, according to place-specific needs and community input. This flexibility allows for collaboration to determine how the designation may be crafted to fit the area’s needs, while safeguarding access for sportsmen and land managers. Rather than reject the Birthplace of Rivers concept because of uncertainty, WVTU saw an opportunity to take advantage of the designation’s flexibility, coming to the table to define a viable designation for an area that means so much to West Virginians and our sporting heritage.
The Monument’s establishment would preserve current management emphases of backcountry recreation and spruce and spruce-hardwood restoration, rather than leaving these areas subject to changes at the hands of a future administration. While there is public input to National Forest Plan changes, there is no requirement of public approval. In Congress, recently introduced bills aim to give away or strip temporary protections for National Forests and others public lands, as well as to increase industrial activity, such as drilling on publicly held mineral holdings.
The Monument would be managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Trout Unlimited and other collaborating stakeholders such as the International Mountain Bicycle Association oppose future management of this Monongahela National Forest land by the National Park Service. There have been no transfers of USFS National Monuments to the NPS in the modern era. Hunting and fishing regulations would not change as a result of monument designation, as nothing in the establishing designation would diminish the role of the WVDNR with regard to fish and wildlife management.
No additional Wilderness would be created as part of the Monument. Collaborating stakeholders agree this area can be better preserved without adding any Wilderness to this proposal. The Monument initiative is still in concept development stage and partners in the initiative are gathering input from user groups, managing agencies and the general public to determine more specific management objectives and proposed boundaries. The final proposed boundaries have not yet been determined. A portion of the MNF has simply been identified for initial consideration, but advocates hope to identify an agreed-upon set of proposed boundaries as a result of the collaborative process and we continue to seek constructive collaboration from other stakeholders, specifically in the sporting community.
According to the vision of West Virginia Trout Unlimited and other advocates, the Monument would allow:
- Hunting, Fishing and Trapping. These are cornerstone activities of the area, and there is no reason to believe these activities will be restricted by the establishment of a USFS National Monument. Hunting and fishing are traditional uses commonly enjoyed on two dozen National Monuments managed by the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service.
- Fish and Wildlife Management duties continued under the direction of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
- Habitat manipulation to provide quality hunting and fishing experiences. Simply allowing hunting and fishing is not enough, because the streams and forests of the southern Monongahela will require continued management by WVDNR and USFS to improve habitat and sustain fish and game populations.
- Stocking of non-native trout under the discretion of the WVDNR. A practice common in several existing National Monuments.
- Spruce and Spruce-Hardwood restoration using a variety of means including stewardship agreements, service contracts and even timber sales if necessary to promote and accomplish restoration objectives.
- Access to all roads currently open to the public
- Construction of roads, if necessary, to meet objectives of the monument, such as stream restoration or spruce and spruce-hardwood restoration.
- Gathering of wild edible plants and other important Appalachian traditions enjoyed in several existing National Monuments.
The Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture identified poor forestry and land use practices as the number one disturbance to brook trout habitat. Siltation from roads, pipelines, and other land disturbances can make dramatic impacts to coldwater communities and the fitness levels of trout streams. While many land use practices on our public lands have vastly improved, we have no guarantees. Also, Monument status will undoubtedly elevate trout fishing as a cornerstone value of this landscape making restoration activities paramount to the continuation of the high quality angling we already enjoy here.
There is considerable evidence that a Monument would benefit the area economically and develop additional tourism, while creating in the woods jobs through promotion of important restoration activities. We should be extremely proud of this area. This is a great opportunity to show not just the angling community that we have something special, but to show the east coast that many of them live downstream from the Birthplace of Rivers and the Trout Unlimited message of Cold, Clean, Fishable Water is MORE important than ever in today’s world.
WVTU highly encourages you to voice your support of the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument to our Congressional Delegation. You can also log onto www.birthplaceofrivers.org and use the direct links to voice your support and sign up for email updates.
This Father's Day, I cannot think of a better way to spend my time than fishing with my two kids in the streams of the Monongahela National Forest.
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Watch this clip of WVTU's Philip Smith as he and other monument advocates discuss the importance of cold, clean, fishable water on PBS This American Land.
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