West Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Walt Helmick, in office for less than a year, may already have taken one of the most important actions of his term in office. It involves saving a natural treasure.
For decades, a tiny insect called the wooly adelgid has been killing hemlock trees in the eastern United States. The pest was accidentally imported from Asia.
Already, whole forests of hemlocks have been destroyed by the bug. Though its devastation began in East Coast states, the creature has spread into West Virginia.
Hemlocks are among the grandest trees in our forests. So majestic and beautiful are they that years ago, an entire state park - Cathedral, in Preston County - was set aside to preserve and showcase them.
But once the wooly adelgid strikes, even mighty giants that were mature before the United States was created stand little or no chance of survival.
Hemlocks can be protected against the insect, but the cost is high.
Here in West Virginia, the state has embarked on a program to battle the bug. This week, Helmick's office announced an important expansion.
A pilot project to help landowners pay for the anti-adelgid treatment had functioned only in a small area around the New and Gauley rivers. It has been expanded to all 46 counties where the insect has been detected. More information on the program can be obtained at the website www.wvagriculture.com.
Expansion of the program is an excellent idea - something no other state is doing. Helmick deserves praise for making the decision.