Big Woods now a state forest, wildlife area

Published 8:59 am Friday, July 23, 2010

SUSSEX COUNTY—About 4,400 acres of pine forest in Sussex County, also known as “Big Woods,” will become a state forest and wildlife management area.

Two state agencies — the Department of Forestry and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries — announced Wednesday that they acquired the property from The Nature Conservancy for $6.4 million, and the agencies would manage the land together.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said Bruce Phillips, who owns about 1,800 acres in the Sebrell area of Southampton County, just a few miles from Big Woods. “There is no other place like it in Western Tidewater. It has lot of good potential. This has some good ramifications for the area and for the future.”

Big Woods State Forest will be formed from 2,200 acres of the property, and will become the 21st state forest, but the first in southeast Virginia. The remaining 2,208 acres will form the Big Woods Wildlife Management Area, the 38th in the state.

“The DOF will actively manage its portion for sustainable forestry, economic development and landowner education,” Todd Haymore, the state’s secretary of agriculture and forestry, said in a written statement. “We’re very excited to be able to add this important piece of land to our state forest system.”

State Forester Carl Garrison added, “This property is an excellent example of a large pine savanna ecosystem. Acquisition of Big Woods State Forest will provide tremendous opportunities for us to plant and to grow longleaf pine, a now diminished species that once covered more than a million acres in Virginia.”

Details on usage, public access, permit requirements and land management strategies were still being developed between the two state agencies. Wednesday’s announcement also indicated that a lot of work remained for developing wildlife habitats and for building infrastructure for public access.

“As a comprehensive wildlife agency, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries seeks opportunities to conserve not only wildlife and important habitat, but also to offer a variety of recreational opportunities,” DGIF Executive Director Bob Duncan said in a written statement. “These include hunting, fishing, boating and wildlife watching – activities that connect the public with the outdoors, making all of us better stewards of our natural resources.”

The Nature Conservancy purchased the land, which straddles the watersheds for the Nottoway and Blackwater rivers, from International Paper Co. in 2006. The state received most of the $6.4 million it paid for the property from a Virginia land conservation bond totaling $4.1 million.

Other funding came from a $900,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, $850,000 from the Virginia Land Conservation Fund, and $550,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Land Acquisition Grant Program.

Phillips, who serves as environmental chairman for the group Virginians Against the Outlying Landing Field, added that the new state forest and wildlife management area would help in the fight against an OLF.

“I see it as a good thing in our ongoing battle against an OLF location in the Dory site,” Phillips said.

Dory is one of five sites the U.S. Navy is considering for the OLF.