September 15, 2015

Objections to USFS Lower Cowpasture Project

On September 14, 2015, Wild Virginia filed an objection to the Forest Service’s “Lower Cowpasture Project.” (Read the objection here.) While the U.S. Forest Service includes logging, biomass removal, controlled burning, and dam reconstruction in their idea of “restoration,” Wild Virginia seeks to instead restore wilderness, ecosystems, and habitat area to the Lower Cowpasture region.

This is an especially important project, as it sets management plans on over 77,000 acres  of National Forest land. This is the first Environmental Assessment in which George Washington National Forest officials have examined such a large-scale area to plan specific actions, in what they have termed a “landscape scale” project review.

Wild Virginia continually expressed concerns, throughout the review process, about practices we oppose or think need extra scrutiny. We have now renewed those concerns in the form of a formal objection, in accordance with federal regulations. Whereas the USFS has deemed the Lower Cowpasture Project as a project of “no significant impact,” Wild Virginia’s Ernie Reed contests in Wild Virginia’s formal objections that, “Labeling these [projects] as having “no significance’ is not based on objective data but instead is based on an arbitrary standard of “significance.”

Some prominent and troublesome issues include:

  • a plan to perform “controlled burns” on nearly 12,000 acres, leading to degradation of air and water quality
  • removal of “biomass,” consisting of debris from commercial cuts and and small “unmarketable” trees – an activity which will cost taxpayers but benefit just one entity, the WestRock paper mill (formerly Meade Westvaco) in Covington, VA, which it will burn to create power at the plant
  • activities planned in this project may significantly alter the hydrologic cycles on and around the sites, including flow cycles in streams, tributaries, and downstream waters
  • the USFS proposal only examines human-instigated management techniques of logging and controlled burning, without consideration of future natural disturbances such as insect predation, drought, windthrow, ice storms, floods, or natural fire
  • the closest ozone monitor station is 32 km away from the Lower Cowpasture site, current air flow patterns may prevent this monitor from responding to ozone changes resulting from controlled burns at Lower Cowpasture

Wild Virginia contends that these and other activities proposed by the Forest Service are not supported by the best scientific findings or sufficient data. Therefore, we advocate improved monitoring and information gathering before the targeted activities may start and continual monitoring during and after the projects are done. We will keep you up-to-date on the status of our objection.

For further comments or inquiry, contact Wild Virginia’s Conservation Director, David Sligh: