Bath Board of Supervisors hears about the new Forest Plan for the George Washingon National Forest
At the Bath Board of Supervisors Town Hall meeting on Tuesday afternoon, the board heard a presentation on the new Forest Plan for the George Washington National Forest. There are 1.1 million acres of national forest in Virginia and West Virginia covered under this plan. About 174,000 acres of Bath County are in the national forest.
Ken Landgraf, Planning Staff Officer, who was the lead on the forest planning process, presented the new Forest Plan.
“The oil and gas leasing has been one of the highest profile aspects of the Forest Plan,” says Landgraf. “And what we decided in regard to that is that none of the forest would be available for gas leasing, with the one exception of the areas that are already under lease and that’s only one percent of the forest.”
Landgraf explained that since the creation of the first Forest Plan in 1993 almost the entire forest was available for gas leasing, but there’s been virtually no interest in leases. Ten thousand acres were leased in 2008, most all of that in Highland County. Landgraf said those ten thousand acres already under lease will stay available, but he said there’s been no interest in developing those leases and there’s been no interest in developing gas in the vicinity of the forest. Landgraf said he’s very doubtful that anything will happen on gas development since this area is on the very fringe of the Marcellus Shale formation.
He also explained that on about 16% of the national forest the Forest Service doesn’t own the minerals, so on those lands the Forest Service can’t make any decisions about leasing. But if an owner considered leasing, he or she would have to negotiate with the Forest Service on use of the surface of the land.
Landgraf also explained that wind energy development could be considered on about 35,000 acres. Wind development proposals could be considered on Walker Mountain and some of Alleghany Mountain. But not on Little Mountain, Shenandoah Mountain, most of Warm Springs Mountain or most of Mill Mountain. And Landgraf also said proposals on Back Creek Mountain would be doubtful.
Changes in the new Forest Plan in Bath County also include the expansion of the Little Alleghany Remote Backcountry area and the addition of a Remote Backcountry area on Warm Springs Mountain and also one on Mill Mountain. Changes also include the addition of special biological areas at Hidden Valley, Blowing Springs and Beard’s Mountain.
A stakeholder’s group, consisting of about fourteen organizations, was actively involved and wrote comments on the plan in the draft stages. And from all the feedback received Landgraf feels it came down to one thing that people felt was most important.
“I think maintaining the forest health in the area and maintaining the diversity of habitat that’s out there,” says Landgraf. “And I think the thing that’s been most important about the planning process has been the diverse groups that have gotten together to come to some consensus on how the forest should be managed.”
The Forest Plan is available on the U.S. Forest Service website. Under “Find a Forest”, click on Virginia, then George Washington National Forest.