| FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 30, 2004
Coalition of Conservation Groups Calls for Halt of Illegal Actions Threatening Cheat River Canyon Wildlife
Contacts: Judy Rodd, Friends of Blackwater 304-345-7663
Petersburg, WV — Today, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of Blackwater, Sierra Club (West Virginia Chapter), the Cheat Lake Environment and Recreation Association (CLEAR), the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, and Coopers Rock Foundation notified Allegheny Wood Products (AWP) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) of AWP’s violations of the Endangered Species Act in an attempt to save the critically imperiled Indiana bat and Cheat three-toothed snail from AWP’s logging and roadbuilding in Cheat River Canyon.
The Cheat River Canyon encases a 16-mile stretch of the Cheat River, the largest undammed river east of the Mississippi River, as it runs northwest from Albright in Preston County to Cheat Lake in Monongalia County. Throughout the canyon, the Cheat River is bordered by steep, sandstone walls and is forested by a variety of tree stands, including oak, red maple, mountain laurel, and sourwood. The portion of canyon impacted by AWP’s activities provides crucial habitat for the Indiana bat and the Cheat three-toothed snail, both protected species under the Endangered Species Act.
The Indiana bat is migratory, with a range extending throughout the eastern half of the United States. The bat hibernates in limestone caves and abandoned mines in West Virginia and spends the summer in the forest feeding and raising its young. During the swarming fall period they gather near these caves to mate and forage to put on fat for the winter. The Service has recognized a five mile radius around Indiana bat caves as a zone of concern. Both male and female bats are believed to have a strong fidelity to particular summer colony, foraging, and winter hibernating habitat. One of the bat’s key breeding and hibernating areas, Cornwell Cave, is in close proximity to AWP’s road building, tree-removal and habitat disturbance.
The Cheat three-toothed snail is a land snail found only in Cheat River Canyon. It is found in sheltered, wooded areas typically associated with sandstone boulders or cliffs, and is often hidden in crevices or cave-like structures. AWP’s property in Cheat River Canyon comprises approximately one- third of the three-toothed snail’s habitat in the entire world.
AWP acquired its Cheat River Canyon property in 2003 from Allegheny Power, despite the State of West Virginia’s interest in purchasing the property as part of an effort to get the remainder of the 16-mile-long Canyon into public ownership. A small portion of the western end of the Canyon is protected by Coopers Rock State Forest. In addition to endangered species, the Canyon contains a portion of the Allegheny Hiking Trail and is a recreational mecca for kayakers from all over the east.
Although the Service informed AWP after it acquired the land that it contained Indiana bat and three-toothed snail habitat, AWP has initiated road building and logging activities in Cheat River Canyon without conducting adequate surveys for the species or applying for a permit under the ESA to harm or harass the Indiana bat and Cheat three-toothed snail, in conjunction with preparing a detailed Habitat Conservation Plan (“HCP”) to minimize and mitigate its impacts on these federally protected species.
AWP has logged in the western end of the Canyon near Coopers Rock State Forest, and begun converting the narrow hiking trail into a haul road near the town of Albright in Preston County, West Virginia. Through their notice letter, the conservation groups have warned AWP that it is in current violation of the Endangered Species Act and must cease all of its offending activities. The Service is also on notice that it must enforce the law.
Judy Rodd of Friends of Blackwater noted that “Like the Blackwater Canyon, the Cheat Canyon is one of West Virginia’s unique ecological treasures and also a recreation destination. AWP has ignored Fish and Wildlife’s request for endangered species’ surveys in their rush to get out the cut. Now the Service must stop this dangerous project.”
Jim Kotcon of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club agreed, “The Sierra Club believes that preservation of wildlife is of paramount importance, particularly the protection of endangered species. Allegheny Wood Products’ activities are seriously threatening critical parts of West Virginia's unique natural heritage. It is an outrage and an insult to West Virginians that the highest levels of the Fish and Wildlife Service are intentionally turning a blind eye to this clearly illegal activity. This is just WRONG!”
To obtain a copy of the notice letter, contact Erin Tobin at Erintobin@meyerglitz.com.