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Public meetings set for George Washington National Forest plan

Public meetings are scheduled this summer concerning draft management plans for the George Washington National Forest.

The proposals focus on management of 1.1 million acres of the forest over the next 15 years in 13 counties in Virginia and four counties in West Virginia.

Issues addressed in the plan include management of drinking water that flows into the homes of more than 260,000 residents, road access into the forest, the future of timber harvesting, gas and oil drilling, wind energy development and the health of forest wildlife.

The nearest forest plan meetings are set for June 22 in Woodstock, June 30 in Lexington, and July 18 in Verona.

The U.S. Forest Service is accepting public comments on the plan through Sept. 1.

The agency recently published its preferred plan, which would add 9,000 acres of wilderness at Little River in Augusta County, and additional wilderness acres in the areas of Ramseys Draft, St. Mary’s and Rich Hole.

The agency’s preferred plan would prohibit the use of horizontal drilling for natural gas, known as “hydrofracking,” but does not prohibit all gas drilling.

Logging land would increase by about 100,000 acres while reducing the annual targets for harvesting.

Forest Planner Karen Overcash said the preferred plan (G) is one of seven about which the public may submit comments until Sept. 1.

A public hearing in October in Verona showcased six other plans (A through F), but reactions to those plans spurred the publication of G, Overcash said. The plans are revised every 10 to 15 years, so comments have poured into the agency, officials said.

The draft plans and an accompanying “frequently asked questions” document are available through the forest service website.