Charlottesville nonprofit Wild Virginia held a training session Saturday to help those interested in protecting the George Washington National Forest provide feedback on projects the U.S. Forest Service has advertised.
Those projects ranged from controlled burns, logging and road cuts to providing input on natural gas leases in the forest.
Ernie Reed, president of Wild Virginia, said those interested in the forest should pick specific issues on which to voice opinions. Before deciding on what to advocate, Reed said, it is important to spend time in the forest.
“The first thing you should do is get out a map and see where it is,” he said. “If you don’t know the place, and you don’t go see it, you are really limited in what you can do.”
The Forest Service is in the process of updating the 15-year management plan for the million-acre George Washington National Forest. The last time the 15-year plan was updated was in 1993; it was due for an update in 2008.
The Forest Service is wrestling with whether to allow horizontal drilling – often known as fracking – to get at reserves of natural gas which may be trapped in Marcellus Shale formations beneath the forest.
Wild Virginia officials said Saturday that input on fracking is a complicated proposition, as the Forest Service has not yet decided whether to allow it in the forest, and no concrete date has been set for the approval of the management plan.
Added to that, permitting the process involves the Federal Bureau of Land Management, said Sherman Bamford, public lands coordinator for Virginia Forest Watch.
“At this point, we have to wait on the revised forest management plan to see if they will allow horizontal fracking,” Bamford said. “It is too uncertain to assume that the forest will be used by frackers.”
Ken Landgraf, of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests said the plan is no closer to being approved.
“There really isn’t much new to report, we still have not reached a decision yet, and so we do not have a timeframe or an estimate of when the decision will be out,” he said last week. “There is nothing imminent at this point in time.”
The Progress reported in April that the plan would be finalized in June, but officials have continued to delay the decision since. Debated has raged about the plan since 2011, when the Forest Service initially proposed a 15-year moratorium on horizontal fracking in the forest.
Mike Ward, of the Virginia Petroleum Council, said in April that opening the forest to fracking could create jobs in Western Virginia.
“It is the potential for spinoff jobs, domino effect-type of jobs — trucking, food and other jobs,” he said. “It can benefit our natural resource supplies from right here at home, and from places that maybe have not been accessed before.”