Forest Service Seeking Input On Revisions To The George Washington National Forest Plan
Warm Springs, VA – On Wednesday night about 40 people were at Valley Elementary School in Hot Springs for a public workshop on the draft revision of the George Washington National Forest plan. The Forest plan revision calls for maintaining the level of timber harvest but increasing prescribed burning. That increase is from 3,000 acres per year now up to 20,000 acres per year in the draft plan.
The draft plan also includes the closing of more than 150 miles of roads in the forest. Horizontal drilling for natural gas is not allowed in the draft plan, but vertical drilling is allowed. And along with the vertical drilling may be some hydrofracturing.
Lynn Cameron of Rockingham County attended the workshop. She hikes, camps and backpacks and has spent decades maintaining trails in the national forest.
“Well I’m very pleased with their ban on horizontal drilling, but I remained concerned that they’re making a million acres of National Forest available for leasing” she says. “If there’s pressure to overturn that ban, I fear that they’ll lease for natural gas development and that we’ll have to suffer some of the effects to our water quality and beautiful areas that other states have experienced. I just valued hearing from the Bath County residents and what their thoughts were about how the forest should be managed.”
Ellen Andrews of Hot Springs was also at the workshop.
“I think the most important issue that the Forest really needs to deal with is the potential for climate change and the damage that can be done from running down our forests any further than it is” says Andrews. “I think it’s very important that we reconsider the considerable timbering that they’re asking for and try o invigorate the forest by recreational areas and not by taking the prime products.”
Marek Smith is the Program Director for the Alleghany Highlands Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
“We’ve been really excited about the framework they’ve used” says Smith. “They’ve used an economic sustainability analysis to be able to develop their plan which means that they look at the different ecosystems that are across the forest and how those ecosystems are functioning. We really like the way they’ve laid it out, they’ve looked at a variety of issues that the public is interested in terms of hunting and fishing and other types of use.”
Those in attendance expressed concern about wind energy development being allowed in the national forest. They also spoke out against the closure of roads. There was also concern about the execution of logging in the forest and being sure that operations follow standards.
Others asked that all forms of drilling for natural gas be banned in order to protect water quality. And others there were concerned about the visual impacts of cutting timber and increasing the amount of prescribed burns.
Public comment is being accepted on the draft forest plan until September first and the final forest plan will be done in January.