News and Announcements
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
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.
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.
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.
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
(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.
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:
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
- • 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
- • 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
- • 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
- • 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
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