Cheat Canyon deal more than a conservation win - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Cheat Canyon deal more than a conservation win

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Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, is a member of The Nature Conservancy — West Virginia Board of Directors. He is managing member and broker of West Virginia Commercial LLC. He has been involved in commercial and investment real estate for more than 30 years, and he also is general partner of McCabe Land Co. LP. He has served in the West Virginia Senate since 1998, and is a special project consultant to The State Journal.

The recent announcement in the newspapers across West Virginia that seven miles of the Cheat River Canyon had been acquired by conservation groups, all of which would be managed by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, made headlines. The sheer magnitude of the acquisition is hard to imagine in today’s age.

The common mindset is that conservation groups, environmental organizations, state and federal agencies and large private land owners must somehow fight over everything and default to win-lose scenarios. This Cheat Canyon acquisition illustrates that combativeness does not have to be the primary approach taken in solving key issues facing West Virginia. With the private sector working in earnest along with key nonprofits and appropriate state and federal agencies, all with a common goal, one of the state’s most iconic natural areas has been preserved for future generations.

An editorial from The Intelligencer of Wheeling recently observed, “The (Nature) Conservancy is successful in large measure because of a philosophy of working with landowners, not treating them as adversaries.”

This point should not be underestimated. This is exactly how the Cheat Canyon was able to be preserved. The owner, The Forestland Group LLC, was able to negotiate in private and work through myriad details to accomplish both its business objectives and its community obligation to help preserve this pristine and irreplaceable natural wonder. The Conservation Fund, along with The Nature Conservancy, did much of the heavy lifting in identifying financial resources, negotiating through the concerns of the state and federal agencies, clarifying land title issues and putting in place the necessary management and oversight of the wildlife management area and nature preserve. The details of this highly complex transaction do not need to be covered here as the newspaper reporters from the major state newspapers did a fine job with the specifics.

What is important is seeing how, with the right perspective, the ability to negotiate in strictest confidence, the maintenance of trust between the parties, and the reliance on experts in the necessary areas of expertise can accomplish what many might believe are unattainable goals. This, of course, needs to be accompanied by the financial wherewithal to fund the project. The cobbling together of multiple funding sources was no small part of the equation. Saving the threatened threetooth snail, which has as its only habitat the Cheat River, allowed for funding to come from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund. West Virginia’s relatively new Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund played an important role as well as West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection funding. Of major significance was $3 million in private funding from the estate of Charlotte Rude which was provided through The Nature Conservancy.

The Sunday Gazette-Mail of Charleston headlined the transaction as the “New River Gorge of Northern West Virginia.” It is an apt description signifying the importance of this accomplishment. When these seven miles of the Cheat River are joined with the Snake Hill Wildlife Management Area and Coopers Rock State Park, the DNR will provide wildlife management for most of the length of the Cheat River Canyon. This is every bit as significant as the careful management of the New River Gorge. If West Virginia is forever to be “wild and wonderful,” these areas must be preserved. A recent editorial from The Dominion Post of Morgantown stated “the transfer of this property overlooking the Cheat River to the DNR will truly benefit the public. Not to mention the flora and fauna that inhabit these 3,800 acres.”

The significance of this most important transaction is not just what was accomplished, it was how it was accomplished. We must find ways to take our disparate interests and work together, expand the trust equation within the working groups and find ways to enlarge our financial base so working capital is more readily available for those projects which are truly important to the long term viability our state. We have much to be proud of with the sale and purchase of the 3,800 acres in the Cheat River Canyon.

Thank you for a job well done to The Forestland Group, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, the DNR and all the other interested parties that made this happen. You have set an example we can follow for years to come. Thank you for showing us how to create a future in which our children can be proud.

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