Area park to host forum on disease plan amendment

Shenandoah National Park is not quite finished taking in comments on an amendment to its Chronic Wasting Disease Management Plan.

Following three public forums and a month-long comment period, the park has decided to schedule an additional meeting for Jan. 22 at the Warren County Community Center in Front Royal.

Jim Schaberl, the park’s chief of natural and culture resources, said the decision to schedule the meeting stemmed from a packet of form letters the park received shortly after the last comment period ended on Dec. 10.

In total, Schaberl said there “roughly 100” signed copies of the letter that was written by a local landowner.

Schaberl added that “the assumption” is that the signees are from areas in Warren and Page counties near the northern end of the park.

This resident, whom Schaberl referred to as a “concerned citizen,” contacted the park with concerns around Thanksgiving, after the public forums occurred.

The concerns in the letter, Schaberl said, largely pertain to the fact that some people were simply unaware of the original November meetings.

The second major area of concern is what Schaberl referred to as “confusion as to what is already in an existing plan and what the planned amendment does.”

Schaberl said that the park wants to clarify any misinformation about the amendment before it is finalized.

In the November public forums, Schaberl and park representatives informed attendees that this deer-population reduction option would be focused on areas of “high density populations.”

This “density reduction” plan would allow the park to lethally remove up to 500 deer over a period of five years in high-density areas of the park if deemed necessary for the overall health of the deer population.

The 2013 plan also gives the park the authority to lethally remove up 200-300 deer over a period of five years, but is largely in place for assessment purposes.

The Jan. 22 meeting will serve the purpose of clarifying those points as well as to give the concerned landowners an opportunity to ask questions, Schaberl said.

Schaberl added that a representative from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries will be present to answer questions.

“Some of the concerns and confusion deals with management of [wasting disease] or animals off the park,” Schaberl said.

The meeting will also mark the reopening of a shortened online commenting period on the park’s website that will remain open until Jan. 30.

Unlike the three November meetings, which saw a total of 50 people, Schaberl expects more residents to attend this upcoming forum.

“The challenge is trying to get the word out, again, because we don’t have the addresses of the people who signed these form letters,” Schaberl said.

This latest public forum will push back the original time frame the park had for finalizing the amendment, Schaberl said.

“We’ll wait for this window to close, see how many more comments we get, how different they are from the original comments and go from there,” Schaberl said.

Schaberl estimated that finalization of the amendment could be pushed back until late February or early March.

This latest public forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Warren County Community Center in Front Royal.

The draft for the park’s Chronic Wasting Disease Management Plan amendment is available for viewing on the park’s website http://tinyurl.com/l8raovd.