Conservationists Pleased with Forest Plan
While the recently released George Washington National Forest management plan drew praise from the Virginia Petroleum Council for keeping the possibility of exploration for oil and natural gas open for the future, others had a differing opinion.
Sarah Francisco leads the regional national forest and parks program for the Southern Environmental Law Center. She participated in the forest plan revision process, and sees the results as a victory for conservation.
“Our takeaway from this decision is that the Forest Service did recognize that the George Washington National Forest is not appropriate for industrial gas development, and we see that in the decision that makes the forest unavailable for any more gas leasing or gas drilling except for those portions of the forest that already are subject to existing leases, or are subject to private mineral rights.”
“I think that the decision shows that the Forest Service listened to the voices from the local community and the local governments that spoke up and asked the Forest Service to protect the existing uses and values of the GW, and also not to open the door to this kind of industrial development. You mentioned the concerns that many people have about the impacts of gas drilling and fracking, and I think the Forest Service’s decision shows that the Forest Service listened and responded to those concerns.”
“To the extent that you hear both sides saying that this is a good decision, I think the industry’s saying that because they are glad not to see limits on hydraulic fracturing, and I think conservationists generally and folks in the local community are happy to see the decision protect all the existing uses of the forest. The forest plan always was focused on the decision that the Forest Service would make about it’s own mineral rights, so I think we see clearly the direction that the Forest Service believes is appropriate.”
Ms. Francisco underscored the role of public input on the final plan.
“I think it’s very important that people understand, not only the nature of the decision that the Forest Service made, and the fact that the vast majority of the forest is protected from industrial gas drilling, but also for folks to understand that the Forest Service listened. That decision responds to public comments and the comments of local governments around the forest, and I hope folks take heart from knowing that the Forest Service listened and responded to the voices of the local communities, and responded by protecting the existing uses and values of the forest.”