As we drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway Sunday, the forests were still alight with yellow and red in this remarkable autumn.
As we joined a group at a higher altitude, the forest floor was covered with red, yellow and brown leaves that crunched under our feet as we headed into a 100-year-old forest.
We strained our necks to see the tops of towering white pines and tulip poplars, whose broad trunks had been marked with bright blue paint.
These giants in the George Washington National Forest will soon fall to the ground as logging companies harvest them under the U.S. Forest Service “Pedlar North Vegetation Plan.”
The plan calls for logging 558 acres and doing prescribed burns on 4,432 acres in an area north of the Pedlar Reservoir in Amherst County.
Judy and Scott Strang, who have fought to preserve the forest, invited a group to join them Sunday to hike through one of the areas to be logged.
Smaller trees were marked with orange paint, indicating they are to be left standing. Many or most of the remaining unmarked trees are likely to be taken out to make room for roads and logging equipment, or simply because they are in the way.
As 15 hikers wandered about 1.5 miles through the forest, we were astounded to see how hard this logging effort will be.
Navigating through the trees to be saved, while felling others will be a laborious task, leaving a few trees mostly alone and vulnerable to high winds.
A forest, by definition, is a community of large trees whose canopies touch and whose roots exchange food, nutrients and information.
When logged, all the creatures in the soil and the animals that benefit from the forest community will also die or have to find somewhere else to go.
In the spring, migrating birds will find their mating grounds have disappeared.
The Forest Service maintains this plan will create more early successional forest, without considering whether there are adequate places around the National Forest that provide low brush and small trees for the animals that require them.
Ignoring current science, the Forest Service gives scant attention to the planet’s most pressing problems: climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution.
Much of the biodiversity loss around the world comes from cutting and burning old growth forests, which sequester carbon dioxide and create oxygen so we can breathe.
Virginia has few old growth forests, and if we don’t preserve them on public lands, where will they exist?
As Scott led us through a thicket of mountain laurel under towering oaks, also marked for logging, he noted the Forest Service does not have a system in place to determine whether its logging practices will actually create the kind of habitat it says they will produce.
In 30 or 40 years, it’s likely there will be no follow-up on this plan, only another antiquated scheme to log more of our national forests.
Unless, of course, politicians and bureaucrats finally listen to people like Judy and Scott Strang.
Shannon Brennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.