Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

A Look at the George Washington National Forest Plan

Valley hunters, anglers and outdoor recreationists of all forms need to take some time and pay attention to the George Washington National Forest’s Land and Resource Management Plan revision process. As the schedule now stands, the draft plan may be ready in late spring 2009.

According to their Web site, “The purpose of this land management plan is to provide broad guidance and information for project and activity decision making needed to manage the George Washington National Forest [GW].”

The forest’s planning staff has been holding public workshops on various aspects of the plan revisions since early 2007. Two more workshops are coming up with the subject: Forest Plan Components, fitting the workshops and other information together toward a Draft Plan.

There is a workshop today from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Rockbridge Co. High School in Lexington and another on Feb. 5 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School in Woodstock.

The U.S. Forest Service held seven public meetings last March to introduce people to the Forest Plan revision process. In July, five meetings were held to continue the discussions on changes needed and what to concentrate on in the Forest Plan revision process.

This fall workshops were held to discuss three different subjects, Vegetation Management, Road and Trail Access and Wilderness, Roadless and Potential Wilderness Areas.

These workshops are the most important ones for recreational users. The challenges surrounding access, timber harvesting, wilderness designations and off road vehicle use can really get people’s blood boiling.

Of special interest is the amount of Potential Wilderness Area and the impact that could have on hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation.

Let me be clear from the outset. Because land is included in a Potential Wilderness Area doesn’t change the way it is managed today. Only Congress has the authority to designate wilderness.

Today, 37 areas totaling 370,000 acres are identified as Potential Wilderness Areas in the George Washington National Forest. An additional 42,000 acres are designated Wilderness Area and 7,700 acres are National Scenic Areas. That represents just over 40 percent of the forest.

Don’t get me wrong Wilderness Areas are great. They provide a number of very important ecological and recreational benefits. They are some of my favorite places to fish and hunt.

Having more in the George Washington National Forest is a good idea. Where they are is going to be the challenge.

Most types of recreational uses are allowed in Wilderness Areas except those involving motorized equipment.

Wilderness Areas by federal law have significant restrictions, however. Timber harvesting, road building, clearing and waterhole development, and other wildlife management techniques cannot be performed in Wilderness Areas.

These activities, if done correctly, are important tools for enhancing recreational activities. If the land base available for wildlife habitat management is significantly reduced then hunting could suffer.

Over the years, the U.S. Forest Service, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries along with the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Ruffed Grouse Society have invested manpower and money developing and maintaining wildlife habitats.

Some of the lands identified for Potential Wilderness Area include many existing wildlife habitat developments, including clearings and waterholes. These wildlife clearings provide much-needed habitat. Designating all these areas as Wilderness could eliminate these clearings as natural succession returns them over time to a forested state.

Much of this area is popular with wildlife recreational users who depend on the George Washington National Forest for access to wildlife populations. Fishing for native Brook Trout takes place in some of these areas. Bear, deer, turkey, ruffed grouse, raccoon, rabbit, squirrel and other species are hunted in these areas. The wildlife habitat value of these lands has been enhanced by previous timber harvesting and wildlife habitat work.

So there needs to be a balance.

There is a lot of good information on the George Washington National Forest Plan Revision Web site at http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/gwj/forestplan/revision/index.shtml.

There you will find documents, schedules and how to make your views known.
I won’t kid you. This can be hard stuff to wade through. It takes time and effort to read all the information and comments. But our ability to enjoy our public lands requires engagement on our part.

Take some time to offer your thoughts to the Forest Service. Your ideas are just as important and count as much as the next guy’s, but only if you share them.

On a more personal note, thank you for the kind words about my friends Jim Range and Jean Ince. They were warmly appreciated.

Jim’s memorial service took place on Tuesday January 27, along the banks of the Potomac River at Fletchers Cove in Washington. More than 200 of his friends and colleagues joined with his family in celebrating his life and many accomplishments.

Mixed in with the copious tears were many moments of hearty laughter as those in attendance responded to tales and reflections of Range. His life was magic for all us and in celebrating his life we relived that magic.

You can go to JimRange.com to capture a glimpse of his remarkable life. The Web site, created to honor and memorialize his life, has a wonderful collection of stories, pictures and tributes to Range.


  1. Tom, It might be helpful for your readers to know that there are several Land Use Designations (LUDs) that the USFS can utilize that are aptly-described as being “wilderness-lite.” These types of management prescriptions can be written to acheive specific goals (think a Special Brook Trout Management Area) while still allowing sufficient access for recreation and restoration activities. In fact, I am currently engaged in some outside the box thinking to configure a Yellow Cedar Special Protection Area on the Tongass NF in Alaska, since we have run up against some pretty entrenched opposition to capital “W” Wilderness.

Speak Your Mind