George Washington and Jefferson National Forests one of 10 ‘special places’

Trout Unlimited is featuring the George Washington and Jefferson national forests in Virginia and West Virginia in a new report highlighting outstanding public fishing and hunting areas in the Central Appalachian region that are at risk from shale gas drilling-related activities.

The organization’s 10 Special Places report focuses on areas that are rich in fish, game and natural beauty, and that have for generations provided abundant opportunities for hunters and anglers. It covers threats to the specific regions and offers recommendations for the best approaches sportsmen and women can use to protect these areas from potential risks.

The George Washington and Jefferson national forests region is the fifth of the “10 Special Places” to be announced. Trout Unlimited will announce a new place weekly this fall, releasing the full report in December.

“These lands are mostly steep mountainsides and narrow valleys,” said Graham Simmerman, chair of the Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited. “It’s going to be almost impossible to develop gas in those areas without severely impacting and totally changing the character of the national forest.”

Spanning a stretch along the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, the George Washington and Jefferson national forests offer vast outdoor recreation opportunities. In Virginia, the forests are home to approximately 80 percent of the state’s public land and 60 percent of the state’s native brook trout streams. The headwaters of eight major watersheds, including some feeding the James, Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, are found here.

“This is one of the largest pieces of public land in the East,” said Mark Taylor, Trout Unlimited’s eastern communications director and a longtime resident of Virginia. “It covers nearly 1.8 million acres, and that land has provided untold fishing and hunting opportunities for generations of sportsmen in Virginia and West Virginia, myself included.

“As hunting and fishing access on private land continues to decline, the national forest is becoming more important than ever.”

Trout Unlimited promotes responsible energy development and, in collaboration with others, seeks to ensure that all reasonable efforts are made to avoid or mitigate the impacts such development may have on important coldwater resources, such as the George Washington and Jefferson national forests.

A 2011 forest management plan for the George Washington National Forest proposed a ban on horizontal drilling of federally owned mineral rights on the forest, a position supported by Trout Unlimited’s members and other sportsmen and women who are urging similar protections for the Jefferson National Forest as that forest’s management plan is updated. At a minimum, Trout Unlimited urges the Forest Service to withdraw watersheds with high value brook trout streams from consideration for future leasing, and to ensure strict standards to protect forests, fish and wildlife resources on lands where oil and gas rights are privately held. Shale gas-related infrastructure, such as pipelines, must also be carefully planned on forest lands in order to avoid impacting the state’s best trout watersheds.

The report and related content are available online at tu.org/special-places.

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The Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited is made up of representatives of the state’s 16 TU chapters.