Planning continues on the Lower Cowpasture Restoration and Management Project
Another public workshop was held in early December on the Lower Cowpasture Restoration and Management Project. This was the latest in a series of workshops held over the past two years.
Sarah Francisco attended the workshop. She’s an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
“With this project the Forest Service really brought the public in at the very beginning and on an ongoing basis to continue to provide information along the way,” says Francisco. “And, for example, tonight the Forest Service described a couple of the alternatives that they’re thinking, made some changes to the alternatives that they’re looking at. I think it shows that the agency is responding to public comment and public input about the project and it’s great to see that kind of responsiveness from the agency and that kind of collaboration.”
The proposed Lower Cowpasture Restoration and Management Project covers 100,000 acres in eastern Alleghany and Bath Counties. It proposes land management activities that include timber harvesting, prescribed burning, invasive plant management, recreation improvements and forest road access work.
Jay Jeffreys, a Science Team Leader with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, was at the workshop. His organization has been involved with a George Washington National Forest stakeholder committee for about four years. The committee is made up of different professionals and interested parties who want to provide input on management of the national forest.
“I think that this process has gone very well,” says Jeffreys. “And my understanding, although not real familiar with all Forest Service activities, that this process has been a little bit different in that a lot of public comment and public meetings for folks to get involved and engaged it was done early. And that, in the end, it will be a much better process for public input from a variety of different stakeholders. And overall the net benefit will be that those of usthat are here talking to one another will be able to learn and listen and find common ground that we would not otherwise have.”
Mark Miller is Field Director for the Virginia Wilderness Committee. He is also involved in the stakeholder group. He says that group brought people with different perspectives together. And the group also provided input on the Lower Cowpasture Project.
“It has given me a different perspective on issues like timber harvesting, issues of fire and fire management and I think that it’s provided a perspective that I haven’t had before,” says Miller. “But in addition to that, I work on wilderness and so folks who work on timber and game it’s given them a new perspective on wilderness.”
Patrick Sheridan is the U.S. Forest Service District Ranger for the Warm Springs and James River Ranger Districts.
“Tonight we met with our publics that have been following along with our Lower Cowpasture Project and this meeting was focused on presenting to them what the preferred alternative is for the Lower Cowpasture,” says Sheridan. “Meaning trails we’re going to build, roads that we’ll build, prescribed fire, invasive species management, timber sales, all of those types of things. This is what will go out to the public for thirty day comment and it’s taken us a good year to get to this point, through several iterations and a number of field trips. But we’ve released this preferred alternative, almost released it, for public comment. It should be ready to go by the end of December.”