Extreme drought in the mountains of Virginia has the state forester's office, the government's office and the heads of the state's two big national forest dusting off old rules on closure of woodlands to hunters.
The agencies insist they do not intend to close the forests to hunting if conditions stay as they are. State Forester Wallace Custard did say he had been in contact with the governor Friday to advise him about the state of the woods. If closure come, it would be by the governor's proclamation.
Custard said his agency is monitoring conditions on a day-to-day basis, and if major forest fires should break out and weather factors deteriorate, a recommendation for closure is a possibility.
That could come at the worse possible time for Old Dominion hunters.Small-game season opened yesterday and deer season, which draws the big numbers to the woods and fields, open Monday.
George Smith, supervisor of the hugh George Washington National Forest said, "If we don't get any rain and we see the number of forest fires increasing. I'd think there would be serious consideration given to closing the forests."
However, Smith said there was fog and drizzle in the woods yesterday and more fronts were due during the week. That should ease the danger of fires considerably.
According to Smith, less than three-fourths of an inch of rain has fallen over most of the GW Forest in the last 60 days.
Three weeks ago officials at Shenandpah National Park stopped issuing back-country camping permits to hikers closing the woods to overnight stays because of fire danger. Supt. Robert Jacobsen said the action was taken after fires erupted at Old Rag Mountain and White Oak Canyon. Old Rag, where 400 acres burned, is still smoldering in spots.
Jacobsen felt the back-country closure was advisable even though open fires are banned to backpackers in the park all year around.
In GW and Jefferson forests, as well as private woodlands around the state, there is no ban on open fires. Neither national forest has instituted a ban and none is expected.
Asked about the discrepancy between national forest and national park responses to the same weather conditions, Jefferson Forest Supt. Robert Spivey said, "Our analysis came out differently."
"Our fire experts tell me, and I've seen by my own observation, that it's very dry. But we're not in a critical fire danger situation yet. There's practically no wind up here, and the humidity is high.
"We've had a number of fires set in recent weeks, but nothing has given us any real problem so far. It would have to be a very, very serious situation before we'd ask the governor for closure. Hunting is one of the principal recreations we offer."
"Hunters," Spivey added, "are among our most careful users. Our problem is with people setting fires."
The authority under which the governor could shut the woods to hunters is the forest closure act, Custard said.It does not end with public lands. A closure would be likely to cover a major section or even all of the state and would apply to private forest land as well as state and national forests.
Maryland Wildlife Administrator B. F. Halla said, no similar contingencies are being studies in his state, where "we have no real emergency at the present time."