The U.S. Forest Service is sticking with its plan to harvest timber and burn several thousand acres near the Pedlar River in the George Washington Forest, though it did remove 195 acres from proposed timber cuts.
Lauren Stull, district ranger for the Glenwood & Pedlar District of the GW Forest, who wrote the Forest Service Draft Decision Notice for the Pedlar River North Vegetation Project, said harvest acres decreased from 753 to 558.
Twelve areas were removed to mitigate impacts to old growth forests, heritage resources, visual resources (including the Appalachian Trail) and riparian corridors, she wrote in the final draft plan. Those revisions were made based on field surveys and analysis, as well as public comment.
The Forest Service maintains the timber harvest and prescribed burn of 4,432 acres is necessary to create early successional forest, which includes herbs, shrubs and small trees that regenerate after cutting.
According to Stull, the George Washington and Jefferson national forests host about 292 wildlife species that are classified as threatened, endangered, sensitive, locally rare or of public interest.
She says 125 of those species require early successional habitat, while 152 species need a mix of early successional habitat and mature habitat in close proximity.
But people concerned about protecting forests question the need for more early successional forests when mature forests are increasingly rare and old growth is virtually nonexistent. They see the plan as an excuse to harvest timber under the guise of helping wildlife.
They also are concerned about fouling the Pedlar River and Pedlar Reservoir, which is the primary drinking water source for more than 100,000 people in the City of Lynchburg and surrounding counties. Undisturbed forests sequester carbon and protect watersheds better than those disturbed by logging and burning.
Ernie Reed, a member of the Nelson County Board of Supervisors, has spent decades defending forest ecosystems.
Reed filed a formal objection to the plan this past week, saying the Forest Service failed to adequately analyze a “no action plan” — in other words, the benefits of leaving the forest intact.
Reed noted natural disturbances have created a mosaic of canopy gaps and early successional habitat through mortality, ice storms, blow downs, aging, and increased extremes of drought and flood.
“As forests continue to age, these impacts are more common, more widespread and more intense. This is particularly important given the 10-15 year range over which the project may be stretched. In a decade, many significant changes will have transpired naturally that will create an environment different from the snapshot provided in the DEA (Draft Environmental Assessment),” he wrote.
Stull maintains that a no action plan is not required, but she did one anyway and determined it would not achieve the Forest Service objectives. She gave no details in her draft decision.
Judy Strang, founder of the Friends of the Pedlar River, said she also will file a formal complaint against the plan.
“To convert forest to timberland is a net reduction in the diversity, integrity and resilience of the ecological community that is a forest,” Strang said in an email.
“I’ve visited 17 of the tracts slated for timber harvest, and every single one of them is a connected, dynamic, thriving ecosystem … valuable as living forest, not timber for harvest. The tracts also contain areas of steep slopes and nearly every one is threaded through or bordered by one of the Pedlar River’s headwater streams.”
Strang and Reed led hikes in March to show people areas slated for harvest. Strang said she will lead more hikes in the fall to show the difference between uneven-aged forests and timberlands.
“It may be too late to save the Pedlar River watershed’s old forests, but greater public awareness may save other aging forests from a similar fate,” said Strang, who can be reached at email@example.com.
Members of the public who previously commented on this plan may submit objections by June 7 to Joby Timm, Forest Supervisor, at https://cara.ecosystemmanagement.org/Public/CommentInput?Project=58783.