Friday, November 02, 2012

Cedar Key residents, state resolve forest dispute

Bourassa State Forest's deforestation at center of controversy.

The president of a local homeowner's association said a dispute with the Virginia Department of Forestry has been resolved.

The center of discussion was a 288-acre forest bordering the Cedar Key subdivision in Huddleston. The Bourassa State Forest was donated to the Virginia Department of Forestry in 1986 by the late Leo Bourassa. The forest, part of which borders Smith Mountain Lake, is a mixture of hardwood species such as oak, maple, hickory and pines.

Jim Erler, president of the Cedar Key Estates property owners' association, argued that Bourassa donated the forest to the VDOF in 1986 on the condition that the area would be a wildlife reserve.

Erler said residents of the Cedar Key subdivision noticed forestry workers marking trees within the tract in 2010, and voiced their concerns to VDOF.

"It was going to be actively managed," said Todd Haymore, Virginia secretary of agriculture and forestry. "Every acre of the forest is broken down into tracts, and there were some tracts of the forest that were going to be clear cut."

Residents feared the negative visual impact of deforestation would lower property values, Erler said. In addition, residents were concerned about the potential use of herbicides to treat the forest.

Public meetings held last year between forestry officials and residents were sometimes heated, said Erler. Haymore acknowledged the tensions and said forestry officials did not take into account the "uniqueness" of Bourassa State Forest.

"I deeply regretted the way things started. Even though the process started poorly, I think in a strange way it helped us to get to where we are today," Haymore said.

Introduced to Cedar Key residents at a Oct. 24 meeting at Erler's home, the new management plan is a collaboration between VDOF and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, which also manages forests within the state.

Cutting will be permitted in the plan, but at a lower rate than what would have occurred under the old plan.

The plan recommends that in years 2012-14, 24 acres of hardwood, "favoring oak," is to be thinned to about 60 trees per acre. In addition, 32 acres of pine are to be thinned to about 200 trees per acre. Stands reduced by thinning would not be targeted for another 20 or 30 years to allow regeneration. The management plan also calls for the minimal use of herbicides.

Haymore, a Pittsylvania County native, said no date has been set for the plan to take effect.

"There's probably no one in the state government who loves Smith Mountain Lake like I do," said Haymore. "I personally am really pleased the way things have come together."