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November 26,2019   |   News story

Dear Friends of the Jefferson National Forest,

The USDA Forest Service, is seeking comments in regards to a crown touching release (CTR)

proposal across the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and the Clinch, Glenwood/Pedlar,

and Eastern Divide Ranger Districts in Bedford, Bland, Botetourt, Carroll, Craig, Dickenson,

Giles, Grayson, Lee, Montgomery, Pulaski, Roanoke, Rockbridge, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell,

Washington, Wise, and Wythe Counties in Virginia.

The Jefferson National Forest (JNF) proposes to improve the competitive position of oak and

other important species in young forest stands through the use of a crown touching release (CTR)

technique, which involves the hand-cutting of some or all small-diameter trees whose crowns

touch the desired tree. This creates more growing space for the selected tree allowing it to

expand its crown and secure a spot in the mature stand. The numbers of trees released from

competing vegetation per acre will vary based on conditions on the ground. Foremost, this

technique will be used to control future stand species composition (promoting mainly oak

species) at maturity. Secondary objectives include increased diameter growth rates of released

trees, which will generally decrease the amount of time required for the tree to reach mastproducing

size.

Project Area Description

The project area encompasses immature forest stands across the JNF where a regeneration

harvest has occurred within the prior 10 to 35 years. Candidate areas are even-aged hardwood

stands where the trees are ½” to 8” DBH (diameter at breast height) and that range from nearing

canopy closure up to fifteen years after canopy closure. Average stand size in these areas is

approximately 36 acres. Most of these stands are located on productive sites where the site

index1 exceeds 60 for upland oak. To streamline consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife

Service, the analysis will only cover areas of the JNF within Virginia; candidate stands in

Kentucky and West Virginia will not be included in this decision.

Purpose and Need for the Project

The proposed action was developed to improve the competitive position of oak (Quercus spp.)

and other important species in young forest stands. When stands are regenerated, oak and other

desirable species can be difficult to maintain on productive sites due to competition from less

desirable species such as red maple (Acer rubrum), striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum), sweet

1 Site index is the height that trees reach at 50 years of age and is used to measure productivity in forest stands.

2

birch (Betula lenta), and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). Crown touching release (CTR) is

an example of a technique which is used in young hardwood stands to manage trees for timber,

wildlife, and aesthetic characteristics to meet desired conditions of various Management

Prescriptions as described in the Revised Land and Resource Management Plan Jefferson

National Forest (hereinafter referred to as the Forest Plan).

CTR work in young stands has been occurring on the Forest for the past twenty plus years, and

has been effective in maintaining important species in regenerated stands. A study documented

that CTR increased tree crown growth, diameter growth, and improved the competitive position

of oak in a new stand (Miller, 2000). In another study, it increased diameter growth in oak

saplings which received a three to four -sided release (Ward, 1995). Furthermore, the survival of

intermediate and suppressed oaks was improved threefold by doing a three to four -sided release.

The Forest Plan specifies the overall direction for managing all resources for the Forest, and

consists of Forest-wide and Management Area-specific desired conditions, goals, objectives,

standards, and guidelines that provide for land uses with anticipated resource outputs.

Maintaining and improving oak composition in stands is vital to achieving the desired condition

of most Management Areas (MA) on the Jefferson NF. These MA’s emphasize wildlife habitat

and the long term production of hard and soft mast, like acorns and berries. Although oak species

are the objective, other species which are valuable to wildlife would also be featured in lesser

amounts, including hickory species (Carya spp.), black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), and butternut

(Juglans cinerea). Any shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) identified would be released to improve

potential bat roosting habitat. In areas with high scenic objectives, trees would be selected to

improve or enhance scenic integrity objectives.

Proposed Action

The proposal involves the release of 15 to 50 desirable trees per acre. The release would be a

“crown touching release” technique, which involves the hand-cutting of some or all smalldiameter

trees whose crowns touch the desired tree. This creates more growing space for the

selected tree allowing it to expand its crown and secure a spot in the mature stand. The numbers

of trees released from competing vegetation per acre will vary based on conditions on the

ground. Foremost, this technique will be used to control future stand species composition

(promoting mainly oak species) at maturity. Secondary objectives include increased diameter

growth rates of released trees, which will generally decrease the amount of time required for the

tree to reach mast-producing size.

Competing trees would be cut with chain saws, brush cutters, or hand tools. No heavy equipment

or machinery would be used. Generally, trees ½” to 8” at DBH (diameter at breast height) would

be cut. Trees greater than 8” DBH will not be cut; this is to maintain and protect potential bat

roosting habitat. No cut trees will be removed from the site. Sites would be accessed from

established Forest Service roads or trails and no soil disturbance would occur.

3

Decision to be Made

We anticipate this proposal to be categorically excluded from documentation in an

Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under at 36 CFR

220.6(e):

(6) Timber stand and/or wildlife habitat improvement activities that do not include the

use of herbicides or do not require more than 1 mile of low standard road construction.

The responsible official for the decision will be the Forest Supervisor for the George Washington

and Jefferson National Forests. The decision to be made is whether forest stand improvement

operations should occur in the appropriate candidate stands, and if so, what level of treatment is

optimum or appropriate. The project is subject to the design criteria and Management

Prescription limitations described in Appendix A.

Public Involvement

As a result of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 (Public Law No. 113-76) and the

Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill, Public Law No. 102-381), the Forest Service will no longer

offer appeal opportunities for categorically excluded projects. However, we will continue to offer

public involvement opportunities for these projects and will take public comments into

consideration before final decisions are made. Therefore, we welcome your involvement and

encourage your comments on this proposal. Comments received, including names and contact

information of those who comment, will be considered part of the public record on this proposed

action and will be available for public inspection. Comments submitted anonymously will be

accepted and considered; however, anonymous comments will not provide the agency with the

ability to provide the respondent with subsequent environmental documents.

Written comments concerning this proposal will be accepted until Monday December 23, 2019.

Comments may be submitted through the JNF Crown Touching Release Project website via the

web form (https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public//CommentInput?Project=56255). This

web form can also be accessed from the project website:

https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=56255

On the right side, you can select "Comment/Object on Project."

Written comments can also be submitted hardcopy to:

USDA Forest Service

ATTN: Michelle Davalos, District Ranger

1700 Park Ave, SW

Norton, VA 24273

 

5

Appendix A.

Design Criteria

  • • No heavy equipment or machinery will be used to minimize ground disturbance
  • • Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) identified in stands will be designated as a leave tree and

released to improve potential bat roosting habitat.

  • • Butternut (Juglans cinerea) will be designated as a leave tree and released to protect and

promote the propagation of this sensitive species.

  • • Eastern and Carolina hemlock (Tsuga spp.) will be designated as leave trees. The intent

is to protect Carolina hemlock; eastern hemlock will also be designated as a leave tree to

avoid misidentification.

  • • Any other trees species identified as Federally-listed or on the Regional Forester’s

sensitive species list will be designated as a leave tree.

  • • In areas with high scenic objectives, trees will be selected to improve or enhance scenic

integrity.

  • • Trees to be cut will be 8” DBH or less. This diameter limit meets the silvicultural

objectives of the treatment and will help maintain and protect potential bat roosting

habitat.

  • • Treatments will occur within the dormant season to protect sensitive plant and

salamander species. Specific dates will be determined by District or Forest Wildlife Staff.

Targeted stands will be outside of the Management Prescriptions (Rx) listed below in Table 1.

Many of these Management Prescriptions have been classified as “unsuitable for timber

production” and would be unlikely to have any candidate stands that meet the conditions of

eligibility for treatment under this decision.

Table 1. Management Prescriptions not considered for CTR treatments

Rx Name

Forest Plan

Page #

1A Designated

November 25,2019   |   News story

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