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Forest Facts

The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests oversee nearly 1.8 million acres of public land, representing one of the largest blocks of public land in the eastern United States.

The Forests are comprised of lands in Virginia (1,646,328 acres), West Virginia (123,384 acres) and Kentucky (961 acres).

The Forests are administratively divided into six Ranger Districts, the  Clinch, Glenwood-Pedlar, Eastern Divide, North River, James River and Warm Springs, and Lee Ranger Districts, and the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area

The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests are a part of the Appalachian Hardwood Forest which is located within the Eastern Deciduous Forest Province. There are over 40 tree species represented on the National Forests and over 2,000 species of shrubs and herbaceous plants. Hardwood-dominated forest types comprise approximately 80 percent of the acreage and conifers comprise about 20 percent. There is much variation in the vegetation and many natural changes are taking place as forest succession progresses.

  • 1.02 million acres of the National Forests are generally remote, undeveloped lands where a variety activities may occur.
  • 689,600 acres (39%) of the 1.8 million acres are actively managed for the production of timber and wood products.
  • 89,862 acres (5%) of the 1.8 million acres are currently classified as Wilderness, where limited human activity may occur.

A wide range of timber harvest cutting methods are utilized based on site-specific analysis. Virtually all reforestation techniques utilize natural regeneration of upland hardwood species. In the mid-1990s, timber harvests averaged about 4,000 acres annually to meet various resource objectives ranging from forest health to specific wildlife habitat requirements. The total value for timber sold in 1996 amounted to $3.4 million.

The Forests transportation network has nearly 3,000 miles of National Forest System Roads which range from paved highways to non-surfaced roads designed for high clearance vehicles. Many of these roads are available for pleasure driving, the removal of forest products, bicycling and scenic viewing. Interstate 81, U.S., and State highways also cross or adjoin the National Forests. In addition, three National Forest Scenic Byways traverse 90 miles of the Forests affording vehicular access to areas of scenic beauty.

The National Forests are traversed by the Blue Ridge Parkway and a portion of the Forests adjoin the Shenandoah National Park.

Because the National Forests are located in the Blue Ridge, Central Ridge and Valley, Allegheny, and Cumberland Plateau physiographic provinces, habitat is provided for a wide variety of species including at least 70 amphibian and reptiles and many neo-tropical birds. At 5,729 feet, Virginia's tallest peak (Mount Rogers) is located here.

The Forests also provide habitat for approximately 200 species of birds. Sixty percent of the neo-tropical birds are forest interior species and require large blocks of undisturbed forest habitat, while 40 percent of them require early successional habitat. The Forests are home to at least 55 species of mammals ranging from white-tailed deer to several very rare species, including the water shrew and rock vole. Twenty-seven of the plants and animals species found on the Forests are listed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened or endangered. The Forests afford excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing, as well as hunting and fishing.

The Forests are located within eight major river basins -- the Potomac, James, Roanoke, New, Big Sandy, Holston, Cumberland, and Clinch Rivers. Average discharge of surface water from National Forest lands is estimated to be 2.2 million acre feet. The Forests contain 2,340 miles of perennial streams, of which over 1,000 miles are trout waters. There are 82 reservoirs within or immediately downstream from the National Forests, 16 of which are used for municipal water supply. Lake Moomaw is among the largest reservoir (2530 acres) providing flood control, water quality control, and recreation opportunities.

The lakes, ponds and reservoirs located on the Forests support over 100 species of freshwater fishes and mussels, of which 26 species are listed as threatened, endangered, or sensitive. These aquatic habitats support a diverse recreational fishery supporting greater than 374,000 recreation user days each year.

Watersheds and stream channel stability are still recovering from the effects of historic land use practices, combined with major storms. Sedimentation, flooding, and low flow regimes are concerns in some watersheds. There is also concern about acidification of streams from acid deposition. Ten percent of trout streams are already acidified.

Developed recreation opportunities are offered at over 200 sites on the Forests. These opportunities vary from minimally developed sites such as ten unit picnic areas with vault toilets and hand pumps, small scenic overlooks, and small non-fee campgrounds to highly developed recreation complexes providing swimming beaches, camping spurs with utility hookups, warm showers, and flush toilets.

The Forests have approximately 2,100 miles of trails open to one or more non-motorized uses – hiking, horse-riding, and/or mountain biking. The internationally famous Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Forest Trail #1, foot travel only) extends more than 325 miles across the Forests as it wends its way between Georgia and Maine. In addition, there are 12 National Recreation Trails on the Forests totaling 143 miles.

The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests comprise approximately 80 percent of the public hunting lands located in Virginia. Nearly 75 percent of all Virginia hunters hunt on the National Forests, and hunting is among the most popular recreation activities on the Forests. Last year approximately 100,000 hunters visited the Forests. The Forests provide the majority of the black bear and ruffed grouse habitat in Virginia. The Forests have also constructed and maintain seven shooting ranges for the free use and enjoyment of our visitors.

The Forests include two active OHV routes totaling approximately 60 miles. All active routes are open to ATV's and unlicensed motorcycles, but use is restricted to designated trails, and seasonal closures apply. Certain routes are also open to full-sized 4-wheel-drive vehicles. The Forests also feature several hundred miles of roads suitable for 4-wheel-drive vehicles. 

The Forests manage 23 Wildernesses totaling approximately 140,000 acres. Wilderness are designated areas where the earth and its communicty of life are untrammeled by humans, and where the impacts of human activities are minimized. They provide opportunities for solitude and primitive types of recreation. In addition, 32 special-interest areas on the Forests emphasize dispersed recreation opportunities.

Forest health challenges include major insect pests like the gypsy moth, southern pine beetle, and hemlock woolly adelgid. Major disease problems include oak decline, dogwood anthracnose, and shoestring root rot.

The gypsy moth began its defoliation on the Forest in 1986. Since hardwood stands occur on about 80 percent of Forest acreage and because the health of many stands are impaired by oak decline, the gypsy moth has caused dramatic impacts across the Forests. Annual defoliation episodes exceeding 100,000 acres have occurred. Apart from the annual suppression action being taken to combat the gypsy moth, short- and long-term research is occurring to document the effects of this drastic change to forest conditions. Silvicultural techniques are being extensively applied, in conjunction with the timber sale program, to reduce the susceptibility and vulnerability of the forest to gypsy moth.