Resource Management

Natural History

Prior to European settlement, the landscape of southwestern Virginia included forests of different ages interspersed with expansive open woodlands with grassy understories, and occasional dense cane thickets, barren areas, and swamps. Forests were constantly changing as a result of receding of the glaciers to the north, fantastic beaver activity, large grazing animals like the eastern woodland bison, uncontrolled lightning fires, and widespread Native American use of fire and crop cultivation.

Unfortunately, most of the forests on the George Washington & Jefferson in the 21st century are about the same age. This is because much of the forest was logged in the late 18th century and early 19th century. This was before there were many foresters in the United States. Also, most people did not think about the effects that logging such large areas would have on wildlife, soil, and downstream water quality.

Today, the majority of the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests are between 70 and 100 years of age. Only one percent of the Forests are less than 10 years old and only one percent of the Forests are over 150 years of age.

The George Washington & Jefferson National Forests contain or influence habitat
that supports thousands of mammals, birds, fish, and mussel species. We are fortunate to have the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and West Virginia Division of Natural Resources to help us take care of all these species. We also work closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assist with recovery of federally listed species and avoid negative consequences from our management activities. We have chosen Management Indicator Species (MIS) to represent the different type of wildlife on the Forest and to monitor any positive or negative effects to these species.

To avoid the loss of some species, we also need the flexibility to promote active management including prescribed fire and timber harvest. In the past, no one—not even the foresters—realized what an important role fire played in the forest. Fire wardens were
stationed all around the National Forest.

Their job was to put out fires as soon as they were discovered; these wardens were very good at their jobs. Americans were glad their forests were no longer burning down. And, we in the Forest Service were very proud of what a good job we were doing at preventing forest fires.

Unfortunately, some of our forests and wildlife species are dependent on wildland fires for reproduction and the open, grassy habitats that these fires created. These fire-dependent species, such as Table Mountain pine and the savannah sparrow, are slowly disappearing from the southern Appalachians.

We have been gradually increasing the use of prescribed and wildland fire to restore these important forest communities. Timber harvesting will also continue to be an important tool where it is too dangerous to use fire, to help offset the costs of wildlife management, and to help meet Americans’ insatiable demand for wood products.

We also recognize other major threats to our forests and wildlife. These threats include non-native species introduced from other countries, unmanaged recreation, and conversion of forests and open spaces to suburbs, shopping centers, and industrial parks.

We work with neighboring landowners to encourage desired land uses on private lands within and surrounding the Forest through agreements, land trusts, and education. We also consider acquiring nearby lands when they are important for rare wildlife species and we have a willing seller.

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