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Plan to forecast forest's future

Group to discuss management at Oct. meeting

By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

The U.S. Forest Service will discuss six alternatives for the George Washington National Forest management plan at a meeting in Verona next week.

The current plan was adopted in 1993, and the ongoing process to update it will provide a vision for the next two decades for the 1-million-acre forest.

The public meeting is planned for 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Oct. 5 at the Augusta County Government Center, and while some comments will be heard then, Forest Service officials will mainly be talking and presenting the various alternatives, planning staff officer Ken Landgraf said.

In January, the group will unveil a draft plan, at which point a 90-day review and comment period will be opened, he said. Landgraf added the draft could be one of the alternatives or a combination of several.

As the process moves forward, Charlottesville-based Wild Virginia is encouraging people to think about drinking water, with the fate of the forest's roadless areas -- places of at least 5,000 acres in size with a low density of roads -- one of the most important components, conservation director David Hannah said.

He is scheduled to lead members of the media and other conservation groups from across the Shenandoah Valley on Wednesday in a discussion and hike at Rockingham County's Reddish Knob, which is in the middle of the largest concentration of the approximately 240,000 acres of roadless areas throughout the forest.

In a report released last year, Wild Virginia found that 62,792 people in Strasburg, Woodstock, Front Royal, Winchester, Middletown and Frederick County obtain some or all of their drinking water from resources within the national forest. The fate of roadless areas is important because roughly half of the roadless lands in Virginia are within local drinking watersheds, Hannah said.

Roadless areas also are important for certain wildlife and recreational opportunities, he added.

"We don't know how they are going to be addressed [in the alternatives]," he said.
On Wild Virginia's website, www.wildvirginia.org, Hannah does warn of one alternative that proposes about 8,000 acres of roadless area remain in active management than in remote back country, and increases from 350,000 to 500,000 the number of acres identified as suitable for timber production.

"These areas are kind of being increasingly chipped away at," said Cat McCue, a spokeswoman for the Southern Environmental Law Center who will attend Wednesday's tour. "The less disturbed these forests are, the cleaner the water stays."

The alternatives can be viewed on the George Washington National Forest's page through www.fs.fed.us.

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