An opportunity is at hand to preserve some of the last remaining wild places in Virginia's Jefferson National Forest. Over the next two years, the Forest Service plans to issue a draft management plan for public comment and, after review of those comments, adopt a long-range plan for the forest that will guide its management for 10 to 15 years. Protection of the areas described in Virginia's Mountain Treasures must be a cornerstone of this upcoming plan.
The 715,000-acre Jefferson National Forest is a part of the Southern Appalachians. The forest is mountainous, with much steep, rugged, and remote terrain. It features clean mountain streams, scenic waterfalls, popular byways, miles of hiking trails, rich biological diversity, and many other attractions.
This proposal would protect the wildest and most natural of these lands, totaling about 276,098 acres. As noted in the summary table, 106,797 acres, or about 39 percent, of these wildlands are at risk of logging and road building that would damage their natural values.
Protection of these wildlands would yield many benefits, including:
Clean Water. These forested areas contain important watersheds. Streams in the Jefferson National Forest form the headwaters of numerous streams that feed the rivers of southwestern Virginia. Keeping these wildlands in an undisturbed condition would help maintain the outstanding water quality and high-priority fisheries.
Diversity. Many native plants and animals, including
wildflowers, black bear, and many songbirds, will benefit
from the protection
of the large tracts of contiguous forests these areas provide.
Old-growth forests are especially important for maintaining
diverse wildlife populations. Since several of the areas link together
to form natural
wildlife corridors and sizable blocks of contiguous forest,
their combined protection would reduce forest fragmentation
In the Southern Appalachian region, only 10 percent of the timber comes from national forests; the rest is from private lands. Less than 1 percent of the timber cut in Virginia comes from the Jefferson National Forest. Payments to the counties would continue with little change under this proposal. By law, the payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) pays counties annually per acre for land in national forest ownership. Therefore, the federal payment would not be reduced due to decreased logging levels. Federal payments also make up a small share of each county budget.