Written by Sam McCreery and Jen Osha.
In southern West Virginia, the people and the land are paying the price so the rest of the nation can have cheap energy from mountaintop removal coal mining. Here in Rock Creek, men and machines are working 24-7 to remove the “overburden” over the coal seams. What many people don’t realize is that the “overburden” that is removed includes every living thing on the mountaintop, including the animals that can’t escape.
The Black Bear is the state animal of West Virginia. Mountaintop Removal is decimating their habitat by the thousands of acres. Long time resident of Rock Creek, WV, avid hunter and woodsman, Ed Wiley knew the site of a black bear den where the overburden was being shoved over. It was springtime, and he knew that the mother would still be inside nursing her cubs, so he hiked up to take a look.
“They had done cut all the timber off of the site,” Ed remembers. “I got to sit there lookin. Dozers were pushing the soil off. I saw that the momma bear had poked out her head, heard the dozer, and then gone back inside. They kept gouging her way… and then I watched them doze her in.” As Ed watched, the momma bear was buried alive with her cubs at her side.
“Now I’ve heard a bear die, and it depends how they’re shot. But there ain’t nothing like hearin that momma bawl, knowin her babies are dying as she gets dozed in. Those cubs don’t even have their eyes open. They might have been old enough to crawl, but they weren’t old enough to escape. What it witnessed that spring, it bothered me. It hurt me. I feel something needs to be done.”
As a result of this conversation with Ed, Jen wrote a song which she sang at the Mountainkeepers festival. This is the chorus:
“Sing for the children, in their Appalachian homes
Who hear rain on the roof and go to sleep in their clothes
While their parents keep watch because nobody knows
If tonight is the night the slurry dam will blow
Sing for the bear cubs, snuggled safe underground
In their dens with their mamas when the mountain comes down
I say what is it worth, this cheap energy we’ve found
When her babies are buried and our children might drown”
We are hoping to work with the DNR to move the bear cubs before they are buried alive, but so far there has been no progress.
Previously, we produced a CD compilation of music and interviews entitled Moving Mountains: Voices of Appalachia rise up against mountaintop removal with Falling Mountain Music to raise funds and awareness about MTR. This summer, we (http://www.auroralights.org/) are working together to use pictures, stories, video, and music to express the consequences of mountaintop removal. We’re collecting stories here, but we need your help, too. Have ideas about musicians? Artwork for the cover? How to get the word out? Want to help try to move the bear cubs? Please be in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Photos by Sam McCreery