Additions Proposed to Two Virginia Wilderness Areas
Charlottesville, VA—Senator Tim Kaine has introduced a bill, the Virginia Wilderness Additions Act of 2017, co-sponsored by Senator Mark Warner, that would protect an additional 5,600 acres of the George Washington National Forest in Virginia. The bill would expand two existing Wilderness areas, the Rich Hole and Rough Mountain Wilderness areas, located in southeastern Bath County. These lands are already part of the national forest, and adding to the designated Wilderness areas will better protect and connect this rugged, scenic area.
“SELC commends Senator Kaine for introducing this bill, an important step forward after years of local stakeholder efforts to find common ground in our vision for this national forest,” said Virginia Office Director Sarah Francisco. “We urge Congress to act quickly on this legislation.”
Wilderness designation is the strongest form of protection for any federal public lands. The Wilderness additions were recommended by the U.S. Forest Service in its 2014 management plan for the George Washington National Forest, following an extensive public process and input from an independent stakeholder group. The George Washington National Forest Stakeholder Collaborative brought together representatives from various interests and continues to work together with the Forest Service and others towards a balanced approach to GW Forest management, restoration, and protections.
FAQ For Background: What is wilderness?
- Wilderness areas are portions of national forests, or other federal lands, which have natural character and where the imprint of any prior land uses are substantially unnoticeable. Only Congress may designate wilderness areas; this is the highest level of protection available for public land. Wilderness proposals usually are developed from the ground up and brought to Congress by local citizens, like the proposed additions to Rich Hole and Rough Mountain.
- Designated wilderness offers outstanding opportunities for people to enjoy solitude and backcountry-type recreation, forested refuges for wildlife and fish, clean water and air, and other natural values.
- Hiking, camping, backpacking, hunting, horseback riding, paddling, birdwatching, and many other forms of non-mechanized recreation are allowed and enjoyed in wilderness.
- To preserve the wild character of these special areas, timber harvest, permanent roads, drilling, and other development are not allowed. The use of motorized equipment, motor vehicles, or other mechanical transport is normally not allowed, except when necessary for control of fire, insects, and diseases, and for search and rescue operations.
- Current uses and access to the proposed Rich Hole and Rough Mountain Wilderness Additions will NOT change. No open roads or trails will be closed, and there are no mountain bike or OHV areas in these areas. And because the Forest Service already classifies these areas as “roadless,” no logging or road building is currently allowed.
- Wilderness designation does not affect hunting or fishing rules, which are determined by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
- Since this land is already federally owned and part of the George Washington National Forest, no land acquisition is required. There are no private inholdings within the proposed wilderness additions.
About The Southern Environmental Law Center:
The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org