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Forest planning comment period expiring

Final management plan could be released in March

By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

The final days to comment on a draft management plan for the George Washington National Forest are here.

The U.S. Forest Service extended the comment period to Oct. 17 on the draft. It had been set to expire Sept. 1, 90 days after its release.

Planning staff officer Ken Landgraf said the most detailed comments usually arrive toward the end, so officials are preparing themselves for that. Afterward, all submissions will be reviewed and responded to, and a team will make recommendations to leadership.

After any adjustments, the final plan should be released in March, Landgraf said.

People along the entire East Coast are showing interest, said Megan Gallagher, a representative for the Shenandoah Valley Network, one of the many organizations that has pressed residents to submit their opinions. The issue of gas drilling has caught the attention of all the Chesapeake Bay states, she said.

Horizontal drilling, the most controversial topic in the plan, would be prohibited on public lands. Vertical drilling, or hydrofracturing, would be allowed on lands where the government does not own both surface and mineral rights.

Gallagher's group has been in favor of the draft plan, particular the stance on fracking.
The network's executive director, Kate Wofford, testified this summer at a congressional oversight hearing on the horizontal drilling ban.

Gallagher said congressional pressure to take certain things out of the draft plan should get residents commenting even more.

"The Forest Service is very responsive of what local governments asked for and what local residents asked for," she said.

The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors is among the governing bodies to have passed a resolution asking the Forest Service to ban hydraulic fracturing, citing the number of residents who get their water from the forest.

Last month, the Forest Service released the budget for all of its alternatives for the draft plan. The preferred choice is in the middle, at $14.7 million a year. Landgraf said it's difficult to compare numbers because George Washington figures are now combined with that of the Jefferson National Forest, but he added that $14.7 million would be a little more than fiscal year 2010 for the George Washington acreage.

Gallagher, meanwhile, is more concerned with the number of people commenting.
"We are definitely still reminding people," she said. "Tell [the Forest Service] it's doing the right thing."

For more information on the draft, and to learn how to send comments, visit www.fs.fed.us/r8/gwj.

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