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m.roanoke.com-Price tag put on Virginia Tech’s Stadium Woods

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http://m.roanoke.com/mapp/story.aspx?arcID=309513

Price tag put on Virginia Tech’s Stadium Woods

By Tonia Moxley
381-1675

What’s the value of an old-growth forest fragment that may be unique on the East Coast?

In a report commissioned by Virginia Tech officials, Maryland-based consulting firm Biohabitats Inc. has put the ecological value of the woods at just more than $5 million.

The report, which was dated May 2012, was obtained Tuesday by The Roanoke Times through a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request.

Now university President Charles Steger and the board of visitors — which will meet in Blacksburg on Sunday and Monday — must weigh that calculation against the value of an indoor football practice facility proposed for up to 5 acres of the woods. The report puts the total footprint of the woods at 13.75 acres.

Cutting or otherwise altering 3 acres for the facility would devalue the woods by more than $1 million, according to the report. But construction is not the only thing that could degrade the woods.

A severe gypsy moth infestation could reduce their value by about $4 million, the report stated.

No mere inventory of species or site plan assessment, the valuation is based largely on pollution management services provided by the woods and its old growth ecosystem and calculated using a model developed by the U.S. Forest Service, the report stated.

Tech paid Biohabitats $17,600 for its work, university spokesman Larry Hincker said.

But the company’s report is only one piece of information considered by a 15-member ad-hoc committee charged with studying the woods vs. practice facility issue, and recommending a course of action to Steger. The committee’s meetings, which have been ongoing since January, were closed to the public.

According to chairman John Randolph, the committee has heard presentations, received about 500 emails from the public and conducted a random survey of more than 1,000 people.

The committee’s recommendation, which is officially due Friday, was submitted over the holiday weekend, Hincker said.

He declined to release the committee’s findings, saying Steger had not had a chance to review them.

As envisioned by the athletic department, the practice facility would be about 400 feet long by 250 feet wide, and between 65 and 90 feet tall to allow punting. The department proposed siting the facility near Lane Stadium in the north end of the woods. That section is home to a Corps of Cadets rappelling tower, and is beset by invasive species, the report stated.

The better-preserved southern end of the woods behind the stadium would be retained. Still, Biohabitats’ report concluded that maintaining the highest ecological value possible in the old-growth “forest patch” requires leaving both sections intact.

The report estimates that the woods contain up to 59white oaks that may be 300 years old or older. These findings are in line with estimates of the number and age of old-growth white oaks found in the woods by retired extension specialist Jeff Kirwan, whose work touched off the debate about the future of the woods in November.

In fact, the work of Kirwan, and of Tech forestry professor John Seiler, was used as source material, the report stated.

Since November, the university Faculty Senate, the Student Government Association and the student-led Environmental Coalition have declared their support for keeping the woods intact.

Friends of Stadium Woods, a community coalition advocating preservation of the woods, has sponsored events and mounted letter writing campaigns.

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Written by vaphc

May 30, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Posted in Trees

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