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The Free Press WV

►  Algae on river flowing into Lake Erie prompts warning

Health officials in Ohio are telling children, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions not to swim in the river that flows through Toledo because of an algae outbreak.

The Maumee (maw-MEE’) River along the city’s downtown waterfront has turned unsightly shades of green the past few days, leading local health officials to issue a recreational advisory Thursday.

Algae blooms can produce toxins. Three years ago, blooms on Lake Erie contaminated Toledo’s drinking water for more than 400,000 people for just over two days. But officials say the current algae outbreak on the river isn’t affecting the drinking water.

Researchers think it is linked to a larger algae bloom on Lake Erie along with slow currents and high phosphorus levels in the river.


►  Websites for travelers who need info on hurricane regions

Tourism is a top industry in many destinations that have been hit by hurricanes this season. For travelers looking to plan or confirm trips to Florida or the Caribbean, it can be hard to figure out what’s happening on the ground. Impact on individual destinations has varied widely. Places that make it through one storm unscathed may be impacted by another as hurricanes continue to form, change course and sweep through the region. Hurricane season lasts through November 30.

Here are some online resources to help you keep track of which destinations are good to go, which are cleaning up and which are off-limits to tourists for now.

CARIBBEAN TOURISM ORGANIZATION: http://www.caribbeantravelupdate.com. Frequent updates and links to information for individual islands and countries, including detailed hotel reports.

PUERTO RICO: http://puertoriconow.seepuertorico.com/ Updates on weather, hotels, services and attractions.

U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS: http://www.usviupdate.com/ Links to hotel updates and other detailed information.

FLORIDA KEYS: http://www.fla-keys.com/news/article/10133/ Visitors are being asked to postpone vacations in the Keys while recovery efforts are underway.

MIAMI: http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/ The Greater Miami area suffered minimal damage from Hurricane Irma and has launched promotions to bring travelers back as part of a #MiamiNow campaign.

ORLANDO: http://www.visitorlando.com/plan-your-trip/severe-weather/ Theme parks and most attractions are open.

FLORIDA ATTRACTIONS: https://floridaattractions.org/Public/Public/Events/Hurricane_Irma.aspx What’s open, what’s closed among smaller attractions around Florida.

U.S. NATIONAL PARKS: https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/news/severe-weather-response.htm Closures and conditions in individual parks in Florida, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas and Southern states.

CRUISES: Some cruises have been canceled and many cruise itineraries have been altered in response to hurricanes and forecasts, so be prepared to be flexible if you’re cruising this season. Check with individual cruise lines for details.

DONATIONS: Many travel industry businesses are donating money and supplies to places impacted by hurricanes. Among the charitable efforts is an ongoing disaster recovery fund administered by the nonprofit Tourism Cares, whose members include Marriott, Delta, AAA, American Express and the U.S. Tour Operators Association, at http://www.tourismcares.org/disasterrecovery/

Outdoors

The Free Press WV

►  Interior chief urges shrinking 4 national monuments in West

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is recommending that four large national monuments in the West be reduced in size, potentially opening up hundreds of thousand or even millions of acres of land revered for natural beauty and historical significance to mining, logging and other development.

Zinke’s recommendation, revealed in a leaked memo submitted to the White House, prompted an outcry from environmental groups who promised to take the Trump administration to court to block the moves.

The Interior secretary’s plan would scale back two huge Utah monuments — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante — along with Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou. More logging and other development also would be allowed at three other monuments — two in in New Mexico and one in Maine.

Bears Ears, designated for federal protection by former President Barack Obama, totals 1.3 million acres in southeastern Utah on land that is sacred to Native Americans and home to tens of thousands of archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings. Grand Staircase-Escalante, in southern Utah, includes nearly 1.9 million acres in a sweeping vista larger than the state of Delaware.

Grand Staircase has been a source of ire for local officials and Republican leaders for more than two decades amid complaints that its 1996 designation as a monument by former President Bill Clinton closed off too much land to development.

Cascade-Siskiyou, in southwestern Oregon, protects about 113,000 acres in an area where three mountain ranges converge, while Nevada’s Gold Butte protects nearly 300,000 acres of desert landscapes that feature rock art, sandstone towers and wildlife habitat for bighorn sheep and the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise.

Two marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean also would be reduced under Zinke’s memo, which has not been officially released. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the memo.

Donald Trump ordered the review earlier this year after complaining about a “massive land grab” by Obama and other former presidents.

“It’s gotten worse and worse and worse, and now we’re going to free it up, which is what should have happened in the first place. This should never have happened,” Trump said in ordering the review in April.

National monument designations add protections for lands known for their natural beauty with the goal of preserving them for future generations. The restrictions aren’t as stringent as for national parks, but some policies include limits on mining, timber cutting and recreational activities such as riding off-road vehicles.

No president has tried to eliminate a monument, but some have trimmed and redrawn boundaries 18 times, according to the National Park Service.

Zinke’s recommendations to pare down the four Western monuments — and allow more logging and other development in three other monuments — “represent an unprecedented assault on our parks and public lands” by the Trump administration, said Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society.

“This callous proposal will needlessly punish local, predominantly rural communities that depend on parks and public lands for outdoor recreation, sustainable jobs and economic growth,” Williams said, vowing to challenge in court any actions by the Trump administration to reduce the size of national monuments.

“Zinke claims to follow Teddy Roosevelt, but he’s engineering the largest rollback of public land protection in American history,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, another environmental group. “If Teddy were alive today, he’d declare political war on Zinke and Trump.”

Zinke has declined to say whether portions of any monuments under review would be opened up to oil and gas drilling, mining, logging and other industries for which Trump has advocated.

It was not clear from the memo how much energy development would be allowed on the sites recommended for changes, although the memo cites “active timber management” as a goal, as well as increased public access.

A spokeswoman for Zinke referred questions to the White House, which said in a statement that it does not comment on leaked documents.

If Trump adopts the recommendations, it would quiet some of the worst fears of his opponents, who warned that vast public lands and marine areas could be lost to states or private interests.

But significant reductions in the size of the monuments, especially those created by Obama, would mark the latest in a string of actions where Trump has sought to erode his Democratic predecessor’s legacy.

The recommendations cap an unprecedented four-month review based on Trump’s claim that the century-old Antiquities Act had been misused by past presidents to create oversized monuments that hinder energy development, grazing and other uses.

In addition to shrinking the four western monuments, Zinke recommends greater economic activity at Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico, and Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine.


►  Literally lousy: Parasite plagues world salmon industry

Salmon have a lousy problem, and the race to solve it is spanning the globe.

A surge of parasitic sea lice is disrupting salmon farms around the world. The tiny lice attach themselves to salmon and feed on them, killing or rendering them unsuitable for dinner tables.

Meanwhile, wholesale prices of salmon are way up, as high as 50 percent last year. That means higher consumer prices for everything from salmon fillets and steaks to more expensive lox on bagels.

The lice are actually tiny crustaceans that have infested salmon farms in the U.S., Canada, Scotland, Norway and Chile, major suppliers of the high-protein, heart-healthy fish. Scientists and fish farmers are working on new ways to control the pests, which Fish Farmer Magazine stated last year costs the global aquaculture industry about $1 billion annually.

So far it has been an uphill struggle that is a threat to a way of life in countries where salmon farming is a part of the culture.

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“Our work has to be quicker than the evolution of the lice,” said Jake Elliott, vice president of Cooke Aquaculture in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick.

Experts say defeating the lice will take a suite of new and established technology, including older management tools such as pesticides and newer strategies such as breeding for genetic resistance. The innovative solutions in use or development include bathing the salmon in warm water to remove lice and zapping the lice with underwater lasers.

Farmers worldwide consider sea lice the biggest threat to their industry and say the persistent problem is making the fish more expensive to consumers. Farmed salmon was worth nearly $12 billion in 2015, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The only hope is to develop new methods to control the spread of lice, which are present in the wild, but thrive in the tightly packed ocean pens for fish farming, said Shawn Robinson, a scientist with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“There are not enough tools right now to allow the farmer to really effectively deal with it,” Robinson said.

The lice can grow to about the size of a pea and lay thousands of eggs in their brief lifetime. The chance of a louse making its way to a diner’s plate is very small because salmon are checked for lice before being sent to market. But even if one did, eating it wouldn’t pose a health threat.

Atlantic salmon have held their own with sea lice in the wild for centuries, and fish farmers managed them in aquaculture environments for many years. Then, farmers in Canada identified the lice as a problem around 1994, said Jonathan Carr, executive director of research and environment with the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

Feeding fish a pesticide with the active ingredient of emamectin benzoate became the tool of choice to control lice, Carr said. But around 2009, the lice appeared to become resistant to the pesticide, and they have spread globally since.

The industry’s key mistake was reacting when the lice evolved to survive pesticide, Carr said, rather than “getting ahead in the game.”

“The efficacy went away and pressure developed to create new treatments,” said Kris Nicholls, chief operating officer at Cooke, a major player in world salmon farming.

The worldwide supply of salmon fell almost 10 percent last year, with Norway, the largest producer in the world, especially hard hit. In Norway, there are hundreds of times more salmon in aquaculture than in the wild. And the fish potentially can escape their pens with lice attached and introduce them to wild fish.

Norwegian farmers are looking to use new closed-in pens that resemble giant eggs instead of typical mesh pens. Scottish farmers have deployed a device known as a Thermolicer to warm the water and detach the lice from fish. And farmers in North America and Europe are experimenting with using species of “cleaner fish” to coexist with the salmon and eat the lice.

Research about farming salmon along with mussels, which researchers have found will eat larval sea lice, is underway. Underwater drones inhabit the other end of the technological spectrum, zapping lice with lasers to kill them. That technology was developed in Norway and has been used there and in Scotland.

Cooke keeps a brood stock of fish in the hopes of breeding them for desirable traits such as disease resistance. And the company uses a pair of boats capable of pumping 10,000 fish at a time into a hydrogen peroxide bath, which kills most of the lice, although it also can stress and kill some fish.

On the shores of Beaver Harbour, New Brunswick, Cooke engineer Joel Halse stood recently aboard a $4 million vessel containing a series of tubes that send 300 salmon a minute on a winding journey while dousing them with warm water to remove lice.

Halse, who likened it to a “waterslide park” for fish, said the fish farming industry has no choice but to try such innovations.

“The cost to the salmon farming industry from sea lice is huge,” he said. “And having tools to control the population would be huge.”


►  Environmental, outdoor groups vow to fight national monument reductions

Environmental and outdoor recreation groups threatened Monday to sue if Donald Trump adopts Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s leaked proposal to alter nearly a dozen national monuments, while grazing, fishing and other groups welcomed the recommendations.

Zinke’s plan to reduce the size of at least four federally protected areas in the West, while altering management practices at another half-dozen, was obtained and published by The Washington Post on Sunday night. The White House is still reviewing the memorandum, which Zinke submitted in late August after conducting a four-month review of how presidents of both parties have applied the 1906 Antiquities Act since 1996.

The secretary urged Trump to shrink four large monuments on federal land – Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Nevada’s Gold Butte, and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou – as well as possibly two Pacific Ocean marine monuments, the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll. He proposed amending the proclamations for 10 monuments, largely to allow for commercial activities restricted in these areas, such as logging, grazing and mining.

Zinke endorsed allowing commercial fishing operators in three marine monuments – the two in the central Pacific Ocean, and one, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument, in the Atlantic.

Eric Reid, general manager of Seafreeze Shoreside in Narragansett, Rhode Island, said in a statement that the recommendations “make us hopeful that we can recover the areas we have fished sustainably for decades. We are grateful that the voices of fishermen and shore side businesses have finally been heard.“

But Mystic Aquarium senior research scientist Peter Auster, whose institution pushed for heightened protections for an area 130 miles off the southeast coast of Cape Cod, noted that federal catch data shows that landings of mackerel and butterfish – two of the main species targeted by local fisherman near the monument – have risen this year compared with 2016, when the monument was established.

Auster said that to allow trawlers, pots and pot gear in the monument, which spans 4,913 square miles, “will have significant effects on conservation of marine wildlife in the monument.“

Former Interior secretary Sally Jewell, who oversaw several of the monument designations Zinke is proposing to alter, said in an interview Monday that, “the protections that are written into the proclamations are in many cases what he’s tryingto undo, in his recommendations to Trump.

“It’s a monument in name only if all the activities that are identified by Secretary Zinke are allowed to occur,“ she added.

Grazing advocates also welcomed the idea of providing ranchers with more access on five different monuments, including not only Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Gold Butte but also the New Mexico monuments Rio Grande Del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.

Ethan Lane, who directs the Public Lands Council at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said in an email that, “It sounds like the voices of western communities are finally being heard and the promise to preserve grazing inside monuments might finally be kept by the federal government. This action would be a win for any western community that depends on ranching to stay afloat.“

Utah politicians, who have lobbied Trump since he was elected to revisit several Antiquities Act designations, praised his administration’s push to scale back these areas. Utah Governor Gary Herbert, R, said Thursday that after having talked with Zinke about Grand Staircase-Escalante, which Bill Clinton established in 1996, “I think there’s the possibility of carving it up into smaller monuments, you know, two or three that actually protects the area that needs protection.“

Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch’s spokesman Matt Whitlock said his boss “is grateful for Secretary Zinke’s thorough, fair review that has given Utahns on all sides of the issue a voice in the protection of Utah lands.“

But a broad array of monument supporters, including environmental and outdoor recreation activists, pledged to fight any changes to existing protections in court.

“Trump, Zinke and Herbert are going to come out on the wrong side of history,“ said Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance Legal Director Steve Bloch.

University of Colorado law professor Mark Squillace, an expert in the Antiquities Act, said in an email that Zinke’s proposal raises a host of legal issues given that no president has considered making so many changes to previous designations.

“Decisions to protect certain objects (and not others) involve judgment call that courts have shown an inclination to respect,“ he said. “The significant legal issues aside, if we allow presidents to second guess the judgments of their predecessor there would no end to the mischief that would create.“

Although Zinke has proposed amending all 10 monuments’ proclamations to shift the way they are managed, the majority of the management plans for these monuments have not been finalized because they take between five and six years to complete.

Randi Spivak, public lands program director for the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity, said any proclamation change “would be subject to challenge” and “any proposed management plan changes will need to formally go through the same legal and administrative processes again, subject to the same administrative appeal and litigation requirements.“

“This process will be very legally vulnerable because it will have to deal with all the scientific, environmental and social conclusions produced during the first round of management plan creation,“ she said. “This would be a massive hurdle for the administration.“

Outdoors

The Free Press WV

►  Coopers Rock State Park: More than just a pretty rock face

The view of Cheat River Canyon from the overlook may be the most obvious thing casual visitors think of when they hear “Coopers Rock.”

But the state park is just as popular for activities that aren’t as easily seen.

Every year, while some of the 250,000 visitors are attending weddings on the overlook or holding reunions in the picnic shelters built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, others are scaling rock formations named Sunset Wall and the Big Blocks.

And other park users are trout fishing in the lake or running through the forest. And some visitors are seeking geocaches, capsules of objects that can be located with GPS coordinates posted on a website such as geocaching.com.

Almost every other weekend, regardless of the season, Matt Born of Reedsville puts a line in the water of Coopers Rock’s lake to see where the fish are hiding.

“Sometimes we are packed in there like sheep, elbow to elbow,” Born said. “Other times you have the lake to yourself.

“You have your everyday guys who know their spot and how to rip the trout out of it,” he said. “Then you have the PowerBaiters: both poles out with fancy rod holders just waiting on the bobber that they put on the line to move. Then you have the spoon/spinner people who cast in and out. Everybody has their method of fishing at Coopers Rock and each one of the groups of people is very successful at catching trout and helping others to catch them too.”

Climbers are another group of sportsmen and women who mentor each other in the sport, said Dan Brayack, a climber, trail runner, hunter and beginning mountain biker from Charleston.

Visitors are not allowed to climb at the overlook but there are large boulders where they can climb without ropes. The sport is called bouldering, and it started in the 1980s, according to Brayack, who has published the “Coopers Rock Bouldering Guide.”

“Someone who is not a rock climber, if you’re fairly athletic, you could scramble around on the boulders,” Brayack said. “Even climbing small boulders that aren’t very tall, we do fall, all the time, and we have one piece of equipment that you need to be able to fall and be OK. It’s called a crash pad and it’s basically a couch cushion but more technical. It’s designed for rock climbing.”

Adam Polinski, project coordinator and founding member of the nonprofit Coopers Rock Foundation, who has also written guides to lead climbers on the best routes up the boulders, calls crash pads “the primary safety device other than good judgement.

“It is used into conjunction with somebody spotting you, just like at the gym.”

Coopers Rock’s elevation — 1,200 feet above Morgantown — makes it a cool place to climb in summer, Brayack said, and it has great views.

The rock is special: It’s called gritstone.

“There’s very little gritstone in the United States and the most famous is in Britain,” Polinski said. “It’s kind of a world-famous rock type. Climbers can talk about rock types just like wine connoisseurs talk about the difference between pinot grigio and zinfandel. We’re pretty lucky around here. We have the equivalent of a really cool vintage of rock.”

Coopers Rock isn’t on the scale of Seneca Rocks with its 300-foot climbs or the New River Gorge, Polinski said, but it’s perfect for bouldering.

“It is booming to the point that you might see license plates from any one of six or eight surrounding states,” Polinski said. “People travel from Baltimore and D.C. and spend the weekend because of bouldering. It really has turned into something.”

Trail running is another fairly young sport that is done at Coopers Rock.

“I like using the trails,” said David Hopkinson, president of the Coopers Rock Foundation. “I’m out there taking care of them so I can continue to enjoy them.”

Outdoors enthusiasts who want to buy or sell some recreational equipment can do it at the gear sale during the Celebration of the Outdoors on October 21 in Pavilion No. 2 near the overlook. Half the proceeds go to the seller and half to the Foundation, Hopkinson said.

Admission and many activities are free at the Celebration of the Outdoors. Visitors can try rock climbing and ropes courses. There is usually a raptor exhibit and birdhouse building. A volunteer leads a tree identification hike. Refreshments can be purchased at the state-run snack bar near the overlook.

The Foundation held its annual 10K Stump Jump August 26. Athletes ran a 6.2-mile course from the overlook to the Roadside Trail, then to Laurel Meadows and Rock City, and back to the overlook. It is one of the fundraisers for facilities maintenance and repairs.

Located in Monongalia and Preston counties, Coopers Rock was named for a cooper, a barrel-maker, who was a fugitive. He hid from authorities at the overlook and made and sold barrels to the nearby community, according to Jan Dzierzak, assistant state park superintendent.

The DNR manages the park and WVU leases part of the forest for research.

“There’s a big education component that occurs at Coopers Rock,” Polinski said, adding that elementary, middle and high school students visit too. “I don’t think you see 10,000 school buses there every year but it’s a steady trickle. There are so many things you can learn there, not just tree or bird identification.

“You can study stream dynamics and the macroinvertebrates that live in stream or the emerald ash borer, the current threat to one species of tree in the forest. There are plenty of educational angles.”


►  Idaho hopes to bring stargazers to first U.S. dark sky reserve

Tourists heading to central Idaho will be in the dark if local officials get their way.

The first International Dark Sky Reserve in the United States would fill a chunk of the state’s sparsely populated region that contains night skies so pristine that interstellar dust clouds are visible in the Milky Way.

“We know the night sky has inspired people for many thousands of years,” said John Barentine, program manager at the Tucson, Arizona-based International Dark-Sky Association. “When they are in a space where they can see it, it’s often a very profound experience.”

Supporters say excess artificial light causes sleeping problems for people and disrupts nocturnal wildlife and that a dark sky can solve those problems, boost home values and draw tourists. Opposition to dark sky measures elsewhere in the U.S. have come from the outdoor advertising industry and those against additional government regulations.

Researchers say 80 percent of North Americans live in areas where light pollution blots out the night sky. Central Idaho contains one of the few places in the contiguous United States large enough and dark enough to attain reserve status, Barentine said. Only 11 such reserves exist in the world.

Leaders in the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley, the tiny mountain town of Stanley, other local and federal officials, and a conservation group have been working for several years to apply this fall to designate 1,400 square miles (3,600 square kilometers) as a reserve. A final decision by the association would come about 10 weeks after the application is submitted.

The association also designates International Dark Sky Parks, with nearly 40 in the U.S. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in central Idaho, known as a prime destination among avid stargazers, became one earlier this year.

“There is some astro tourism,” said Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas, a point driven home last month when thousands descended on the town in the path of the total solar eclipse.

Ketchum officials have applied to become an International Dark Sky Community and join Flagstaff, Arizona, Dripping Springs, Texas, and Beverly Shores, Indiana.

The Idaho city approved a dark sky ordinance requiring residents to install shields on exterior light fixtures to block light from going upward and mandating holiday lighting by businesses and residents be turned off at night.

Becoming a dark sky community could help with the larger reserve status and even lift property values in the already pricey area by keeping the night sky visible. Nearby Sun Valley, a ski resort city, also has a dark sky ordinance, as does Hailey about 12 miles (19 kilometers) to the south.

“It’s nice to look up and see something greater than ourselves,” Jonas said.

The Idaho Conservation League has joined the effort, noting light pollution can adversely affect nocturnal wildlife and people’s sleep rhythms.

“Out of all the types of pollution that ICL is engaged in, I see this as one we can combat in an easier way,” said Dani Mazzota, whose group is coordinating efforts among federal and local entities.

That includes an intensive effort by volunteers taking darkness readings throughout the region. Those readings, combined with satellite measurements, will be some of the information used by the International Dark Sky-Association in its decision.

International Dark Sky Reserves have two main components, Barentine said. The first is a core area dark enough to meet the association’s standards. The second is a buffer area with communities that demonstrate support in protecting the core by limiting light pollution.

The proposed Idaho reserve is mainly land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and contains the wilderness of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

“We have a preservation and protection mission, and preserving the dark sky and mitigating light pollution is a really good fit for the Sawtooth National Recreation Area,” said ranger Kirk Flannigan.

He said a survey of landowners, livestock grazing permit holders, recreation outfitters, lodges and cabin owners found almost universal support for creating the reserve.

The Forest Service will contribute by putting up informational signs about the dark sky reserve and reducing light pollution from its buildings, Flannigan said. The agency would not mandate actions, and any light mitigation by others in the recreation area would be voluntary.

Stanley, a tiny mountain town within the Sawtooth recreation area, runs mostly on tourism money. Its light pollution measures are voluntary but have been effective, not only because they could mean more tourism, but because locals themselves like to see the night sky, said Steve Botti, city council president.

“I go out most every night and look at it because it’s so dramatic,” he said.

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►  Tourism office tasked with helping tell state’s story

When “The Glass Castle” premiered in Welch on August 11, part of what it showcased — besides the state of West Virginia — was the behind-the-scenes work of the West Virginia Film Office.

“We assisted with scouting locations, working with the city to close down roads because they needed to have control of a couple of areas during filmmaking,” said former Film Office director Pam Haynes.

“We assisted with connecting with some local crew available for hire. We were pleased with that,” said Haynes of the film, which is based on a memoir by Jeannette Walls about her harrowing childhood that included growing up in Welch.

But things have changed since the Film Office played that small, but essential role in the making of the nationally released film.

Haynes quit her role and returned to her previous job as a paralegal with a Charleston law firm after it became clear the West Virginia Legislature intended to cut the entire $341,000 budget for the office — founded in 1994 — in a cost-saving move. Legislators left in place a $5 million state film tax investment credit, intended to lure film and video productions to the state.

Many functions of the Film Office as a clearinghouse and guiding hand for film and video projects have since been absorbed by the Division of Tourism in the West Virginia Department of Commerce.

Chelsea Ruby, the commissioner of tourism, said her office is in the process of adapting to the new responsibilities that have been transferred to her staff.

“The Film Office is still open, but we are undergoing some restructuring due to the loss of funding for the office,” she said.

Bill Hogan, a managing member of Image Associates LLC, a West Virginia-based advertising and media production house, spent many hours lobbying legislators about the significance of the Film Office’s work. Cutting funding for the office was “penny-wise and pound foolish,” he said.

“It was the dumbest move that could have been made. Myself and many other filmmakers expended endless energy, visited with virtually everybody on both bodies of our Legislature to convince them of that. Politics got in the way,” he said.

Hogan said he has spoken with the Tourism Office about its new role in guiding film production in the state, which involves everything from location scouting to training in-instate film production crews, but he is concerned about the changed circumstances.

“I don’t want to dismiss their efforts in trying to deal with something that has fallen in their laps. They are clearly trying to be proactive about maintaining the Film Office,” he said. “But without a point person available it leaves not only producers, but the entire film community wondering who we can speak with.”

There is no film commissioner or staff for the film commissioner, said Hogan.

“There is no Pam Haynes a producer can pick up the phone to speak to or a location manager when they’re shopping for locations,” he said. “We really have been used to great communication through a single funnel. There’s no one who is experienced.”

Ruby said members of the tourism staff are taking on Film Office duties.

“It’s not necessarily that we’re devoting specific people,” she said. “What we’re doing is cross-training and taking other folks in our office and incorporating film into their day-to-day duties.”

She has met with other state tourism offices that run state film programs.

“Other states have done this very successfully, and we believe if we do this right, we’ll be better positioned to tell West Virginia’s story,” Ruby said.

Some promotion of the Film Office is underway, she said, with a new website soon to launch and an exhibit planned at this year’s American Film Market to promote shooting in the state.

“We continue to take the day-to-day calls of the office and administer the tax credit program,” she said.

The Film Investment Tax Credit program offers up to $5 million in annual tax credits to production companies to encourage them to film in West Virginia.

A production company can earn a tax credit of 27 percent if it spends at least $25,000 in West Virginia. The credit goes up to 31 percent if the company hires 10 or more West Virginia residents as crew or talent during a shoot, a measure intended to help grow film production talent in the state.

A production company can then sell the tax credit to a West Virginia business or individual wishing to reduce corporate or individual tax burdens.

Since the Film Office’s inception, a host of film, video, commercial and still-photography shoots have taken place in West Virginia, ranging from portions of high-profile productions such as “We Are Marshall” and the J.J. Abrams/Steven Spielberg film “Super 8,” to five Stephen David Entertainment miniseries for AMC and other cable channels. There have been hundreds of other productions, including numerous projects by state businesses.

The tax credit program has been key to the decision of many in-state and out-of-state production companies to locate a project in the state.

The Film Office’s 2016 annual report stated, from its enactment in July 2007 through December 2016, the Film Investment Tax Credit program has “spurred a large increase in business prospects that have spent more than $54 million in direct in-state expenditures, including wages, construction, fuel, transportation, airfare, lodging, heavy equipment rental and more.”

Ruby noted, for the first time since the tax credit program’s inception in 2007, all $5 million worth of tax credits were applied for in the 2016-17 fiscal year. Already in the new fiscal year, about $1.3 million in tax credits have been awarded, she said.

Despite cancellation of the Film Office budget, Ruby said the state’s film production industry will carry on.

“West Virginia is a great location for film, and we’re starting to make a name for ourselves as a state that welcomes film,” she said. “We look forward to building on that reputation and welcoming new films to West Virginia.”

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