BRIDGEWATER — The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service held a public meeting on Thursday to answer questions regarding the North Shenandoah Mountain Restoration and Management Project.

The meeting allowed district rangers and staff to address questions and concerns regarding the restoration and management project, as well as provide history and background of the project and review environmental assessments.

More than 20 people attended Thursday’s meeting.

Mary Yonce, North River district ranger, said the project was “a big milestone for us,” adding that the USDA Forest Service had been working on the project for several years.

“This is the biggest project I have been a part of,” Yonce said. “It took us two field seasons to get all the work done and scoping was fairly fruitful.”

The North Shenandoah Mountain Restoration and Management Project proposes landscape-scale restoration and management aimed at improving watershed conditions, restoring habitats for a diversity of terrestrial and aquatic species, increasing resilience in ecological systems and providing forest products to local economies, according to a press release.

The project’s focus areas are Rockingham County and Pendleton County in West Virginia. The project proposes restoration action on approximately 9,430 acres out of the 128,000-acre planning area.

Project working areas include Blue Hole and Grove Hollow, Camp Run and Mitchell Knob, German River, Feltz Ridge and Leading River and Slate Lick and Cross Mountain.

The project was designed to move the existing conditions within the North River Ranger District toward desired conditions described in the 2014 Revised Forest Plan for the George Washington National Forest, according to the USDA Forest Service website. The Draft Environmental Assessment documents the site-specific analysis for implementing the proposed action, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

The use of silvicultural methods, or practices of controlling the growth, composition, health and quality of forests, include: thinning, regeneration harvest, grassy area enhancement, planting, forest stand improvement, non-native invasive species treatment and prescribed fire, according to the press release.

Kevin Kyle, a silviculturist, gave a presentation Thursday that provided an overview of the work being proposed.

Approximately 1,259 acres were proposed for regeneration harvest, 592 acres proposed for yellow pine restoration and 2,027 acres proposed for variable density thinning. Converting areas to more vegetation would be done through prescribed burning.

Tyler VanOrmer, fire management officer, said there are 4,240 acres proposed for burn units. Three large burns and seven small burns are being prescribed.

Creation and maintenance of wildlife clearings, open grasslands and open savanna and woodlands habitat are also parts of the proposal, along with yellow pine and aquatic ecosystems restoration efforts in the form of planting, large woody debris placement, aquatic organism passage restoration and riparian buffering.

Dawn Kirk, fisheries biologist, and Meg Riddle, wildlife biologist, addressed attendees about the 281 acres proposed for wildlife openings and clearings.

Up to 10 small water holes will be added along with 14 miles of road decommissioning to improve riparian areas. Those roads are already closed and unused by the public and the Forest Service.

The project also proposed improving 15 culverts to allow aquatic organism passage and transportation components, including limited new system roads, temporary roads, road maintenance, reconstruction and decommissioning.

Steve Woods, engineer, said 10 roads were recommended for decommissioning, with 15 temporary roads to be created.

Information on the proposed action and associated documents can be viewed at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=50342 as well as in the district office in Harrisonburg.

The USDA Forest Service is asking for public comments to be submitted by Sept. 14 at midnight. Comments can be uploaded electronically or mailed to Mary Yonce at 401 Oakwood Drive, Harrisonburg, VA 22801. Once the team has the opportunity to view comments and figure out the next steps, a draft decision will be issued.

Contact Jessica Wetzler at 574-6279 or jwetzler@dnronline.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @wetzler_jessica

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