Award lauds collaborative approach to forest management in George Washington National Forest

Sunrise in the George Washington National Forest, where a group of stakeholders worked together over several years to build consensus on a long-term management plan for the area. (© Brent McGuirt)

The George Washington National Forest Stakeholder Collaborative recently received the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s 2015 Partners and Community Engagement Award. The group was recognized for its collaborative approach to planning national forest management and building consensus among a wide group of interests. SELC has participated in the group since its formation in 2010.

The collaborative consists of 20 local organizations and individuals with diverse interests who worked together on the revision of the George Washington National Forest’s management plan and the Lower Cowpasture Restoration and Management Project. The group first met in 2010 with the aim of developing recommendations for the new management plan.

“We worked for a year just to learn from one another, listen to different perspectives, and identify ways to meet group members’ goals,” said Senior Attorney Sarah Francisco, leader of SELC’s National Forests and Parks program and the SELC representative in the collaborative. “Ultimately, through hard work and dedication to a collaborative approach, along with great leadership by the steering committee, the group was able to reach consensus on a number of issues regarding management and protection of the GW that had long been contentious.”

The group submitted joint comments on the draft plan, outlining a vision for protecting core intact areas of the forest and focusing active management around the periphery. Many of the ideas presented in the comments were reflected in the final plan, released in 2014, including recommendations for additional Wilderness and National Scenic Area designations, as well as additional areas and objectives for restoration and management of forest ecosystems, enhancement of habitat for certain wildlife species, and timber harvest.

The group continued to work together on the first large-scale project to implement the new plan, the Lower Cowpasture Project. Finalized in December, the project is the first in the George Washington National Forest to be developed through an open, collaborative process, with early public engagement and frequent opportunities for input. The final project plans include timber harvest, forest thinning, and other activities, along with ongoing public involvement and enhanced monitoring and study during implementation.

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