West Virginia is often the front line in the battle between competing concerns of economic development and environmental protection. A new research center at West Virginia University will try to help reconcile those seemingly incompatible interests.

WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences has received $1.7 million from the “United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)”: to establish an Environmental Research Center. The WVU center, to be initially housed in WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design will help formulate policy and promote economic development focused on a sustainable and productive natural environment.

“The ultimate goal is to improve the quality of life for citizens of West Virginia and beyond,” said Jim Anderson, professor of wildlife and fisheries resources, associate director of the Natural Resource Analysis Center in the WVU Davis College, and the director of the Environmental Research Center.

The center will focus its efforts on the mid-Atlantic Highlands region, extending from southern Virginia to southern New York and including all of West Virginia.
“The region has one of the most ecologically diverse floral and faunal assemblages in the United States,” Anderson said. “Moreover headwater streams flow to both the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico; factors affecting the highlands also affect coastal zones.”

A number of environmental factors affect the mid-Atlantic Highlands’ land, water, air, and inhabitants. Air quality issues include changing levels of greenhouse gases. Water quality is impacted by acid mine drainage, sedimentation, waste water, and other factors. Invasive plants, microbes, animals, and fungi impact the forests, streams, fields, wetlands and agricultural areas in the region. Social concerns such as low civic engagement, high unemployment, and an aging population compound these issues.

To address these issues, center participants plan to develop an interdisciplinary environmental research program with an emphasis on watersheds, sustainability, environmental restoration, biodiversity, energy and rural development.

“We hope to serve as an impartial liaison between various grass-roots environmental groups, resource management agencies, businesses and industries to effectively create and promote new policies that will lead to a healthy environment and a strong economy,” Anderson said.

Part of that will include the development of integrated education and research programs that will lead to new green technologies aimed at fostering economic growth in rural areas of the state. Creation of graduate and undergraduate-level, multidisciplinary curricula in environmental studies is also on the center’s agenda.

“Development of these programs will support a well-educated workforce capable of meeting the demands of high-tech environmental and energy industries,” Anderson said.

The appropriation will be administered by the WVU Research Corporation.


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Question: What ideas do you have for economic development in West Virginia that would incorporate our natural resources or environment and also increase sustainability?