Additions for two Wilderness Areas reintroduced
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — On Thursday, Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner reintroduced the Virginia Wilderness Additions Act of 2023, which would protect 5,600 acres of the George Washington National Forest in Virginia. The bill would expand the existing Rich Hole Wilderness and Rough Mountain Wilderness areas, located in southeastern Bath County. These lands are already part of the national forest, and designating additional wilderness acreage will better protect and connect this rugged, scenic area.
“SELC is grateful to Senator Kaine and Senator Warner for reintroducing this bill, which honors an effort by local stakeholders begun in 2011,” said Federal Legislative Director Anders Reynolds. “In prior sessions of Congress, this bill has achieved approval by both the House and Senate, so it is especially deserving of consideration and final passage this year. We look forward to working with decision-makers to get this done in 2023.”
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 group of local stakeholders that has long included SELC.
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, fishing, 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 Wildlife Resources.
- 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.
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