Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia Upper Cheat River Project


Stand R45 proposed for clearcutting. Photo credit: John Coleman

Why this forest is special 

The nearly 1 million-acre Monongahela National Forest lies in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. It includes much of the highest country in the state, including the upper reaches of the Blackwater and Cheat rivers, and several designated wilderness areas. The forest has some of the best mixed cove hardwood and oak stands in the region and provides habitat for many endemic and imperiled wildlife. It’s a popular place for rock climbing, paddling, fishing, mountain biking, hiking, birding and caving.

Upper Cheat River Project

The project will clearcut 3,463 acres of mature hardwood forest and cost taxpayers $1.4 million. Two-thirds of the targeted stands are more than 100 years old, with some trees older than 200 years. Widespread logging at the start of the 20th century stripped hillsides of almost all the original old-growth forest. The Forest Service has identified only six areas of old-growth conifers on the Monongahela, totaling 335 acres, and has classified no hardwoods as old growth.

Carbon storage and biodiversity

The project area is home to many rare and imperiled species, including the recently rediscovered giant hellbender salamander, the mountain earth snake, the Indiana bat, the northern long-eared bat and the Virginia big-eared bat, all of whom rely on intact forest ecosystems. In March 2022 the federal government proposed reclassifying northern long-eared bats as endangered. The Upper Cheat River environmental assessment fails to adequately consider the harm intensive, large-tree logging will have on these bats. The bats rely on large trees for roosting and raising young within the project area. Logging of the largest and oldest trees to create openings and early seral habitat results in the largest loss of carbon stores and causes the greatest reduction in carbon sequestration. Soil degradation from intensive logging releases soil carbon stores, and the resulting runoff exacerbates flood risk and degrades aquatic habitats. The logging project also threatens Horseshoe Run, a state listed high-quality mussel and native brook trout stream.

Why these trees should remain standing

Like much of the Monongahela, the Upper Cheat River project area is interspersed with private forest lands where industrial timber operations focus on clearcutting. This disproves the Forest Service’s claims that it needs to “create openings” and “improve age class distribution.” The Forest Service manages only 39% of the project area, which makes the mature forests and wildlife habitat here even more important as a buffer against the surrounding fragmentation and degradation. Much of the logging will be by helicopter because it will occur on very steep slopes. Clearcutting on steep slopes causes soil erosion and runoff. Rainfall can be torrential in this area, and watersheds are already harmed by industrial logging. Local communities surrounded by the project are frequently impacted by flooding.

The future of mature and old-growth trees in Monongahela National Forest

Past logging has stripped nearly every old-growth tree, yet the Forest Service continues to target old trees for clearcutting. Where it does exist, old growth is limited to small, scattered patches within a larger mix of primarily 70- to 90-year-old forests, representing less than 1% of the entire forest. The forest plan seeks to develop old-growth only where it does not get in the way of future timber production.

Project status

The Forest Service issued a draft final decision in 2022. In September 2022 a group of 48 local landowners and a local conservation organization filed objections to the project.

Local contact: John Coleman, Heather Lantz or Stephen Coleman, Speak for the Trees, West Virginia. Speak4Trees2@gmail.com

The Worth More Standing report spotlights federal forest-management practices that are liquidating mature and old-growth forests and trees every day. It includes 10 examples that are part of a pervasive pattern of federal forest mismanagement that routinely sidesteps science to turn carbon-storing giants into lumber. Learn what actions you can take to protect Climate Forests across the country.