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National forest lands compose almost seven percent of West Virginia’s surface area, more than 2,700 square miles in 13 counties of the eastern and southeastern mountains. The Monongahela National Forest lies entirely within West Virginia, encompassing parts of 10 counties from Preston and Tucker southwestward to Nicholas, Pocahontas, and Greenbrier. The George Washington and Jefferson national forests, headquartered in Roanoke, Virginia, extend into four West Virginia counties along the state line: Hampshire, Hardy, Monroe, and Pendleton. Portions of two different national forests are located in Monroe and Pendleton.

These federally owned lands were established following passage of the 1911 Weeks Act. The act authorized the purchase of forestland for the long-term protection of watersheds of navigable streams, following the massive cutting of eastern forests in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The first land to be acquired for national forest (originally known as forest reserves) purposes in West Virginia was in 1915, when the 7,200-acre Arnold Tract in Tucker County was purchased by the federal government following authorization by the state legislature. This land became part of the Monongahela National Forest, which was created on April 28, 1920. The George Washington National Forest was established in 1917 as the Shenandoah National Forest and renamed in 1932, and the Jefferson National Forest was established in 1936. The passage of the Clarke-McNary law by Congress in 1924 authorized the purchase of forested, cut-over, or denuded lands for the production of timber in addition to the flow regulation of navigable streams. The authorization to purchase land for timber production made possible the acquisition of land that could not have been bought under the original 1911 Weeks Act.

Subsequent laws were passed enabling national forestland to be managed for all natural resources, including wildlife, recreation, and livestock forage, in addition to water and timber management provided by the early legislation. National forests are operated by the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This Article was written by Walter A. Lesser

Last Revised on July 28, 2023

Related Articles


McKim, C. R. 50 Year History of the Monongahela National Forest. 1970.

Cite This Article

Lesser, Walter A. "National Forests." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 28 July 2023. Web. 20 July 2024.


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