Up to 11 Wilderness Areas Could Join National Forest
As many as 11 and as few as zero new wilderness areas will be recommended for inclusion in the Monongahela National Forest, according to a recently released draft of an updated management plan for the 910,000-acre forest.
The West Virginia Wilderness Coalition, a statewide conservation group, is urging forest planners to add 15 wilderness areas to the five already included in the Monongahela. Currently, less than 9 percent of the forest is protected from logging, road-building and motorized travel through a wilderness designation.
According to a draft copy of the forest's wilderness evaluation, 16 remote areas totaling 137,140 acres were determined to meet federal wilderness guidelines. But no more than 11 of them will be recommended for wilderness status, according to a list of action alternatives included in the draft report.
One alternative calls for placing all 16 prospective wilderness areas under a "backcountry recreation" management prescription that restricts road-building and logging, but falls short of wilderness protection. Much of the land being considered for wilderness status is currently managed as backcountry recreation land.
A second alternative calls for recommending wilderness status for 11 areas, and managing the five others under the backcountry recreation prescription.
A third alternative recommends granting wilderness status for four areas, backcountry recreation management for two others, while six areas would be managed for spruce restoration and the remaining four would be managed primarily for wildlife habitat.
"It's a draft report and there's still time for changes, and we'd like to see all of our wilderness recommendations included," said Matt Keller, director of the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition. "It looks like we have an excellent chance of getting some of our areas protected."
A draft of the revised forest-wide management plan identifying preferred management alternatives is scheduled to be complete in April, followed by a formal written comment period. A final decision is expected in December.
According to the draft wilderness evaluation, two new wilderness study areas were added to the list of 14 identified by forest planners last year. They are 6,727-acre Gaudineer near Bartow in Pocahontas County and 761-acre Dry Fork, which would be added to the adjacent 20,000-acre Otter Creek Wilderness in Tucker County.
The remaining wilderness review areas are: Big Draft, 5,395 acres, near Anthony Creek in Greenbrier County. Canaan Loop, 7,850 acres between Blackwater Falls and Canaan Valley state parks in Tucker County. Cheat Mountain, 7,955 acres south of Bemis and west of Glady in Randolph County. Cranberry Wilderness Expansion, 12,165 acres west of the existing Cranberry Wilderness Area. Dolly Sods North, 7,215 acres just north of the existing Dolly Sods Wilderness. East Fork Greenbrier, 10,153 acres north of Bartow in Pocahontas County. Gauley Mountain East, 7,780 acres between Webster Springs and Slaty Fork. Gauley Mountain West, 6,624 acres just west of Gauley Mountain East study area. Middle Mountain, 12,179 acres west of W.Va. 92 between Neola and Rimel in Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties. Roaring Plains West, 6,825 acres just southwest of existing Dolly Sods Wilderness in Pendleton and Randolph counties. Seneca Creek, 24,957 acres encompassing 8 miles of Seneca Creek southwest of Seneca Rocks in Pendleton County. Spice Run, 6,171 acres just south of Calvin Price State Forest in Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties. Tea Creek Mountain, 8,272 acres north of Williams River Road in Pocahontas County. Turkey Mountain, 6,111 acres near the Pocahontas-Webster County line and bordering the Williams River southeast of Webster Springs.
Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News