CHARLESTON, WV (WVDN) — Gov. Jim Justice called on the Biden Administration to cease the war being waged by his federal agencies against West Virginia.
“I’m calling on President Biden to stop this all out war on West Virginia by his federal agencies,” Gov. Justice said. “It’s so blatantly targeted at our state and our people because we happen to disagree on political issues. It’s just plain wrong.
“We aren’t asking for special treatment, just fairness and consistency in the decisions by these agencies that have the power to affect our state, our economy, and the livelihoods of hardworking West Virginians.”
State Wildlife Center:
The State Wildlife Center in French Creek is temporarily closed due to an abrupt decision by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to no longer recognize a long standing variance for a secondary containment fence that was issued in 2000. APHIS made the abrupt decision as part of the annual relicensing procedure. As the relicensing process and inspection are pending approval, the Wildlife Center is unable to exhibit animals and will be closed to the public until a new license is secured.
Due to this decision, the Wildlife Center has canceled the 2024 Groundhog Day Ceremony, which was scheduled for Friday, February 2.
Trout Stocking Program:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), during discussions relating to the renewal of our hatchery operations grant, recently told the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources that West Virginia will have to cease stocking Trout in waters with a known population of Candy Darter, Guyandotte River crayfish, and Big Sandy crayfish.
The discussion was undertaken as a requirement of Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which obligates the proponent of any activity with a federal nexus (e.g., funding, real property, etc.) to consult with the USFWS about the effects on federally threatened and endangered species. Because DNR Fish Hatchery Operations are conducted using federal funding, the agency was obligated to review the potential effects of trout stocking on federally listed aquatic species.
The DNR does not believe that populations of Candy Darter, Guyandotte River crayfish, and Big Sandy crayfish are affected by trout to the extent that USFWS believes them to be and will conduct a study to examine the effects.
The DNR is hopeful to negotiate a path forward to ensure the stocking program continues in full. However, as of today, at least four streams will be removed from the stocking program if a deal is not reached. Those streams are Camp Creek in Mercer County, Laurel Creek of Cherry in Greenbrier/Nicholas counties, North Fork of Cherry in Greenbrier County, and Pinnacle Creek in Wyoming County. Other streams, including prize trout streams like the Cranberry, will be placed on a modified schedule, eliminating stocking during prime seasons.
Road Infrastructure Projects:
In 2022, the US Fish & Wildlife Service notified the West Virginia Department of Transportation (DOT) that a Rusty Patched Bumblebee was discovered in the Monongahela National Forest, near Olson Tower, in Tucker County.
The DOT will be submitting a report to USFWS in the spring stating we will have minimal impact on the Rusty Patched Bumblebee. The DOT believes that they can mitigate what effect they may have on the species by creating pollinator zones along the route of Corridor H, as WVDOH has done at more than 100 sites statewide since 2021.
The back-and-forth between DOT and the USFWS has delayed progress on the Parsons to Davis section of Corridor H for more than a year.
DOT management is concerned with the lack of experience USFWS has with this species, and others, is causing circular discussions, serious burdens on the state, and repeated submissions of documents that are causing undue delays in completing this project and other projects statewide.
Many transportation projects around the state are also being delayed by USFWS, at great cost to the taxpayers of West Virginia, including progress on the Coalfields Expressway, and the third bridge on the north fork of the Cherry River, as examples.
“The State Wildlife Center in French Creek is a beloved West Virginia tradition, and its closure will deprive countless families and visitors of the opportunity to experience the wonders of our state’s wildlife firsthand,” Gov. Justice added. “We’ve transformed our trout stocking program in West Virginia into an example the world is now following, and pulling back now would result in a real hit to our tourism industry and all the businesses, outfitters, hotels, and other companies that are thriving as a result of our incredible wildlife programs. And halting the construction of Corridor H is an absolute shame beyond belief. It’s a ridiculous over-reaction to something that we can’t even find evidence of.
“I’m going to work with our Senators and explore other avenues to help cut this red tape, but in the meantime I am deeply disappointed in these decisions.”
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