WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner introduced the Virginia Wilderness Additions Act, a bill to add a total of 5,600 acres to two existing wilderness areas within the George Washington National Forest in Bath County, Virginia. A wilderness designation is the highest level of protection for public land under federal law. These additions were recommended by the U.S. Forest Service in 2014 and endorsed by members of the GW National Forest Stakeholder Collaborative, a group of forest users that has worked together for seven years to agree on acceptable locations in the GW for wilderness, timber harvest, trails, and other uses.
“The George Washington National Forest is one of Virginia’s most precious assets. We enjoy its wildlife; its scenery; its trails; and the benefits of responsible development of its resources,” Kaine said. “Taking care of our nation’s outdoor resources is good for our economy and good for our environment. I applaud all stakeholders who came to the table – from local officials to conservationists to the timber industry – to work together on a plan that sets an example of how collaboration in public lands decisions can benefit everyone.”
“I am proud to partner with Senator Kaine to introduce legislation that will add 5,600 acres to the George Washington National Forest in Bath County, Va. Our public lands are some of our most cherished resources, and it is essential that we take the necessary steps to conserve these lands for future generations to enjoy. This legislation is the result of seven years of collaboration among a diverse group of stakeholders and provides an example of what can be accomplished when everyone is willing to invest the necessary time and effort to find common ground on contentious land management issues,” said Warner.
“The introduction of this bill is the direct result of years of hard work by the George Washington National Forest Stakeholder Collaborative, which includes representatives from diverse interests including the timber industry, wildlife managers, and recreational groups, to work together to meet very different goals. This added Wilderness area will result in ecological, economic and recreational benefits and is a win-win for all those stakeholders involved,” Mark Miller, Executive Director, Virginia Wilderness Committee, said.
“As an advocate of active management of the GW National Forest, I support the proposed Wilderness additions in this bill as part of a collaborative agreement among many groups and individuals. The GW is large enough to support a variety of ecological conditions as identified in the Forest Plan. These goals can be met through increased timber harvesting and wildlife management while setting aside remote areas that are valuable for wildlife and recreation. This proposal reinforces several year’s-worth of work and demonstrates the ability to accomplish this balance,” John Hancock, President, Virginia Forestry Association, said.
“More than half of Bath County is National Forest land. This proposal to add thousands of acres of protected land to Rich Hole and Rough Mountain will mean an increase in visitation to the National Forest, and increased tourism in Bath County. County leadership wholeheartedly supports this expansion and encourages Congress to act swiftly on this important bill that comes after years of important compromise among stakeholders,” Ashton Harrison, Bath County Administrator, said.
“As a lifelong resident, fisherman, hunter and hiker of the George Washington National Forest, I believe our forests thrive when there is a combination of young growth and old growth. We can accomplish this with a combination of timber harvesting, wildlife management, and protecting special areas. Expanding the Rich Hole and Rough Mountain Wilderness areas adds to this diverse environment and ensures that there is an area where bear and large Red squirrels can thrive in the winter months,” Steve Nicely, Alleghany County resident and long-time hunter, said.