WOODSTOCK – Members of the public interested in commenting on the just-released draft forest plan for the George Washington National Forest will get a chance to speak during a June workshop at the Woodstock National Guard Armory.
The U.S. Forest Service recently released the draft revision of the forest’s land and resource management plan from 1993.
Seven alternatives for the draft environmental impact statement were chosen, according to Ken Landgraf, staff officer for planning and forest ecology for the Forest Service.
“The [staff-] preferred alternative is the basis of the draft forest plan,” he said.
The plan remains in draft form, and there is a 90-day public comment period.
“We will look at what we want to re-evaluate, what we want to change,” Landgraf said. “Then we will make the appropriate changes [and] put out the final [environmental impact statement] and the final plan, and that should be around January of 2012.”
The plan and accompanying documents can be found by going to the Forest Service’s website, www.fs.fed.us.
According to a document titled “Frequently Asked Questions,” the plan recommended by the agency calls for one additional wilderness area, the 9,000-acre Little River, and recommends expansions to three other wilderness areas: Ramseys Draft, Rich Hole and St. Marys.
It says 37 areas, containing 370,000 acres, were looked at as potential wilderness areas. Some reasons an area might not be designated wilderness include having extensive private land barriers, which are hard to manage because they’re more likely to see ATV use or trail building and provide access problems to the Forest Service; having private mineral rights, and being heavily used by mountain bikers or horse riders.
Wind energy generation would be allowed in some areas under the draft plan.
“We looked at that very closely, and we have a lot of concerns about wind,” Landgraf said. “On some of the most sensitive areas of the forest where we think wind can be a problem, we’re prohibiting any possibility of wind development.”
In areas where wind harvesting would be considered, very rigorous environmental analyses would be done to see if it’s appropriate, he said.
The draft forest plan summary says the Forest Service and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory determined nearly 36,000 acres were suitable for developing wind energy. These were mostly along ridge tops.
“The [forest] is in close proximity to growing population centers that would benefit from additional and clean energy production,” the summary says. “However, there are concerns about the effects to water, birds, bats, views, visuals, aesthetics (height of towers), noise, carbon sequestration, and fragmentation of habitat.”
The draft increases the objective for prescribed burning from 3,000 acres to 12,000-20,000 acres each year, according to the document. The draft summary says fire is “an important part of some ecosystems.”
“Management of prescribed fire and some wildfires can serve to restore and maintain these ecosystems, while also protecting National Forest and adjacent lands from the negative effects of fire,” it says. “Some people support … prescribed fire to restore ecosystems, create habitat, encourage oak regeneration and reduce fuels.”
While the amount of land from which timber could be taken would increase from 350,000 acres to 450,000 acres, the objective yearly harvest would go from 3,000 acres a year to 1,800-3,000, according to the FAQ document.
There will be a public workshop June 22 at the Woodstock National Guard Armory, and other meetings throughout the forest region.
“Please come out to the meetings, send us your comments if you have any because we want to make this plan the best that we can have,” Landgraf urged.
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