Summary of key changes in new Forest Plan for the George Washington National Forest
On November 18, a new Forest Plan was released that will direct the management of the George Washington National Forest. This plan revises the 1993 forest plan and contains guidance for managing nearly 1.1 million acres of national forests in Virginia and West Virginia. This forest plan provides a balance of management direction that addresses both the long-term ecological sustainability of the George Washington National Forest, as well as the long-term social and economic needs of those that depend on or are impacted by the Forest. The plan works to fulfill the Forest Service’s mission of managing national forests for multiple uses and reflects the extensive public participation over the past six years.
Some key changes made in the 2014 Plan include:
- Riparian buffers increase from 66 feet along perennial streams to 100 feet
- Area suitable for timber production increases from 350,000 acres to 452,000 acres
- Annual prescribed fire objectives increase from 3,000 acres to a range of 12,000 to 20,000 acres
- Biological and geological areas increase from 80,000 acres to 121,000 acres
- Wilderness is recommended to increase from 40,000 acres in 6 areas to 70,000 acres in 8 areas
- Areas managed for their remote setting increases from 251,000 acres to 370,000 acres
- Minimum road system needed for management decreases from 1,700 miles to 1,500 miles
The George Washington National Forest also made a decision on the lands administratively available for oil and gas leasing. The new 2014 Forest Plan reduced the amount of land available for leasing from 995,000 acres to 10,000 acres, a decrease of 99%. The 1% or 10,000 acres remaining is currently under a lease that expires in 2018. There are also 167,000 acres of National Forest land where the mineral rights are not owned by the government, but are privately held rights. These private mineral rights are equal to private property. The Forest Service has no say as to whether the owners of these private mineral rights choose to develop their natural gas resources. The 2014 Forest Plan does not prohibit any specific technology for developing oil and gas resources, including hydraulic fracturing. Any proposal to develop existing leases on the National Forest would undergo additional environmental analysis and provide opportunities for public comment and engagement.