The Lower Cowpasture Environmental Assessment nears completion
We are in the process of completing the draft environmental assessment and going through final reviews for the Lower Cowpasture Restoration and Management project. The US Fish & Wildlife Service is reviewing our project for compliance with respect to their responsibilities to the Endangered Species Act. Once reviews are complete, the draft will be released for public comment. After comment is collected and incorporated, a final environmental assessment and decision will be issued this spring. The purpose of this effort is to identify projects that can advance the natural resource goals for the area. The project area encompasses approximately 100,000 acres of the eastern portions of Alleghany and Bath counties and proposes a wide array of land management activities to occur in the next ten years. A significant aspect of the project has been the broad group of public stakeholders that have participated in the process since its inception two years ago.
The prescribed burn season this spring will feature a team work of efforts to implement projects on three jurisdictions: the national forest, The Nature Conservancy lands and a new one, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fish. A total of eight prescribed burns are planned for March, April, and early May if conditions allow. The Bear Loop prescribed burn is located on TNC lands on Warm Springs Mountain and is 150 acres in size. The Summers Mountain unit is 478 acres and is located in the Highland Wildlife Management Area in Highland County. The 64 acre hayfields, the 2,200 acre Jackson River burn and the 1,362 acre Neal Run burn are located in the Hidden Valley area of Bath. All projects are planned for helicopter and/or hand ignition using firefighter personnel from multiple jurisdictions.
The majority of forecasters are predicting a normal occurrence of wildfire for our part of the Alleghany Highlands for the period of March through May. Most of the remainder of the southern region will see a less than normal chance for wildfire. The area from the Lake States to the southern end of the Mississippi Valley will experience an elevated fire season. There are some meteorologists, however, who predict that the average fire conditions extending east into our parts of Virginia and West Virginia will increase. Time will tell.
Opportunities for Warm Springs and James River employees to work in the woods have been limited in recent weeks. When the weather has permitted access, field work has included: boundary line painting, road maintenance, creation of permanent wildlife openings, prescribed fire preparation, and special use permit administration.