People from across West Virginia are coming together to develop a proposal for the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument. The proposal is being crafted by a coalition of groups and individuals with different backgrounds and interests, bound by the shared goals of preserving this special area, and ensuring it will be available for future enjoyment.
Without an example of a national monument in the Mountain State, it’s natural to have questions about what the designation entails. The process of inviting feedback and identifying shared values has shaped the current proposal in a way that ensures the permanent viability of the area, maintains management flexibility, and protects access for currently enjoyed activities. The following issues have been raised in recent discussions, so I’d like to take this opportunity to provide some clarification.
Monument designation honors all existing rights, including private property rights outside monument boundaries. Potential national monument designation would not affect activities on private lands outside the monument boundaries, like the proposed sewage treatment plant. In fact, language in the proposal states specifically that, “Establishment of the monument will not affect private lands outside the boundaries of the national monument; or create a protective perimeter or buffer zone around the monument’s boundaries.” This language is common for national monument proposals. Local and statewide leaders involved in other monument efforts worked to provide similar assurances that monument designation would not impact activities on private lands.
Hunting and fishing rights and access would be protected in the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument, and so would gathering of wild edible plants and mushrooms. In the process leading up to the recent Rio Grande del Norte National Monument designation, New Mexico sportsmen and women participated in the public process and the designation was suited to meet the access and management needs for quality hunting and angling experiences. Hunters and anglers are encouraged to do the same in this case. Additionally, national monument status would not change the role of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, which sets hunting and fishing regulations and manages for quality fish and game populations.
West Virginia’s outdoor heritage is important to all of us, and preserving the experiences that define that heritage is what the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument is all about. Local leaders in other states have fully embraced the process in a way that shows great community pride in the lands and waters under consideration. Local leaders collaborating with the community also demonstrates a key willingness to evaluate potential benefits and concerns to provide economic benefits, protect access, and honor the natural and cultural features of a particular land.
The issues discussed here in the Mountain State have become sources of common ground in other places after community input and constructive participation defined other monument proposals. These efforts have become prime examples of how leadership and collaboration can ensure the designation works for everyone involved. There’s no reason the result should be so different here in West Virginia, and there’s certainly no reason the discussion should not be as civil and constructive.
Executive Director, WV Wilderness Coalition