Lower Cowpasture Restoration and Management Project
The Lower Cowpasture Restoration and Management Project is the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests’ first-ever large landscape and integrated resource planning effort. The project plan describes restoration activities on 117,500 acres of public and private lands.
The project area includes the Cowpasture River, Jackson River, and Calfpasture River watersheds in Alleghany, Bath, and Rockbridge Counties in Virginia. The watersheds and forested mountains of this area are recognized as a biodiversity hotspot in the Central Appalachians noted for rare and endemic species found only in this area. The project area covers both public and private lands including parts of Douthat State Park, The Nature Conservancy’s Warm Springs Mountain Preserve, and approximately 77,700 acres of National Forest Land.
The Forest Service will implement the project over the next 10 years. Partners will provide continued support through project monitoring.
By implementing the project plan, the Forest Service aims to facilitate ecological restoration in this area by meeting the following goals:
- Restore the health and diversity of fire-adapted forests and rare plant communities;
- Enhance habitat conditions for declining early successional species and other Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Virginia's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (2005);
- Improve the function and connectivity of streams and full passage of aquatic organisms, including surrogate species such as brook trout and other rare fish and mussel species; and
- Provide resilient ecological systems capable of absorbing negative effects related to climate change
This project began as a unique, collaborative approach to managing national forest land. In early 2013, the USDA Forest Service initiated the landscape-scale analysis and planning process for this project that was designed to consider resource management in a more integrated manner, over a longer timeframe (10 years), and on a larger scale (100,000+ acres). Over 16 organizations and hundreds of individuals participated in the planning process by attending nine public workshops and three field tours in 2013 and 2014. The process built upon strong, collaborative relationships that had developed among this diverse set of public stakeholders during the recent revision of the Land and Resource Management Plan for the George Washington National Forest (GWNF). These diverse partner organizations represent interest groups ranging from the forest products industry, conservation organizations, private forestry consultants, state wildlife agencies, recreational organizations, and sportsman groups. Dubbed the GWNF Stakeholder Collaborative, this group worked together with the Forest Service to engage community members in identifying priority restoration efforts. Through open dialog the Collaborative fostered trust among diverse interests and built consensus around a suite of issues that have traditionally been contentious and polarizing. The efforts of the Forest Service and the Stakeholder Collaborative produced a plan which outlines a roster of restoration and management projects including:
- Timber management
- Transportation improvement
- Aquatic passage improvement
- The USDA Forest Service’s Southern Research Station worked with James Madison University and Trout Unlimited to analyze road crossings and other barriers to cold water fish passage and stream connectivity. This analysis was used to prioritize culvert replacements on national forest lands. It will also guide Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Trout Unlimited and other partners in identifying similar replacements and restoration opportunities on private land.
- Watershed improvement
- Placement of large woody debris in streams will help assist watershed restoration. Stabilizing slope failures in Simpson Creek will reduce potential for continued erosion and sedimentation. Road decommissioning will remove culverts, restore a stream channel and revegetate the site on a road that is closed to the public and no longer needed. Numerous unauthorized roads in the area will be closed.
- Wildlife habitat creation, including native pollinators
- Non-native invasive species treatment
- Trail construction
- Connector trails improvement and construction will connect forest lands with Douthat State Park. Other trails are planned to facilitate access in a Wilderness area and in a Recommended for Wilderness Study area.
- Dam stabilization
- Selected woody biomass removal
- Selected woody biomass removal is the removal of logging slash, limbs or trees not considered merchantable in traditional markets. Woody biomass removal will help sustain a large, local paper mill (WestRock, formerly MeadWestvaco) that generates its own steam and electricity to produce high quality paperboard packaging.
- American chestnut progeny site development and planting of blight resistant seedlings
- Prescribed fire projects
- Prescribed burning projects benefit native forests, wildlife, timber management and wildland homeowners. This project area is part of the larger Central Appalachian Fire Learning Network (FLN), a multi-agency partnership whose goal is to restore the diversity of pine-oak and oak-hickory forests through the use of prescribed fire.
The Warm Springs and James River Ranger District issued the final decision notice in December, 2015, marking the approval of the project plan and the beginning of its implementation.
The USDA Forest Service honored the GWNF Stakeholder Collaborative with the 2015 Partners and Community Engagement Award for their efforts on the George Washington National Forest Plan and Lower Cowpasture Restoration Project.
The Forest Service has begun working with local citizens, local governments, and the GWNF Stakeholder Collaborative on the next landscape-scale project. The North Shenandoah Restoration and Management Project is will consider integrated restoration and management opportunities across approximately 100,000 acres of national forest lands in Rockingham County, Virginia and Pendleton County, West Virginia.