This week, the House of Representatives passed a new rules package that places our federal lands at risk.
In the past, it has been difficult to transfer federal lands to the control of state governments because the lands hold clear value and generate revenue. If lands were taken out of federal control, the House had to account for the money that the U.S. Treasury would lose by proposing budget cuts or introducing a new source of revenue. The new rule passed by the House of Representatives, however, overturns this requirement that ensures the protection of our federal lands.
It will be much easier now for incoming members of Congress to hand out federal land to state governments. Restrictions on state lands are much less stringent than those on federal lands, and they are easier to sell to private companies. It is likely that state governments lacking funds will sell off these lands for extra revenue. This means, lands that had previously been set aside for purposes like wildlife habitat and recreation are now at risk of extractive industries and development.
Representative Raul Grijalva of the Natural Resources Committee has stated that this rule change is “a flagrant attack on places and resources valued and beloved by the American people,” and we agree. This issue affects us on the east coast because we have so few protected federal lands as is. We cannot afford to lose any more of these cherished places.
You can help us fight this change by contacting your representative and letting them know that we, their constituents, care about these issues and will not support changes that place our publicly owned land at risk.
A study in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, (PNAS) identifies our very own Blue Ridge Mountains as a recommended priority area for future conservation, along with eight other areas. The study also states that much of the protected lands in the U.S. are not aligned with the nation’s conservation priorities. This study, “U.S. protected lands mismatch biodiversity priorities,” was carried out by Clinton N. Jenkins, Kyle S. Van Houtan, Stuart L. Pimm, and Joseph O. Sexton, and can be read at pnas.org/content/112/16/5081.
While the majority of U.S. protected land is in the West, the majority of vulnerable species are in the Southeast. The article shares that the most imperiled groups of vulnerable species are those with small geographic ranges. A species range can be measured by both U.S. and global standards. The species’ level of endemism, or being unique to a defined geographic location, was another important factor in determining their vulnerability. In order to explore and evaluate which areas of the country need to be prioritized for further conservation, the researchers mapped biodiversity by “overlaying range maps for terrestrial vertebrates, freshwater fish, and trees, the taxa for which spatial data were sufficient.” The study found that, “[p]atterns of endemism for all taxa are consistently centered in the Southeast, although the west also has significant mammal endemism.”
Most lands in the east and center of the U.S. are privately owned and unprotected. While conservation easements on private land exist and are still being inventoried, it is clear they are not covering the most “endemic-rich” areas. The >1200 endemic species this study focused on were given priority scores which were, in turn, used to identify geographic areas of recommended conservation priority. The Southeast, California, and Texas were the highest-priority areas identified, specifically: the Blue Ridge Mountains; Sierra Nevada Mountains; California Coast Ranges; Tennessee, Alabama, and northern Georgia watersheds; Florida panhandle; Florida Keys, Klamath Mountains; South-Central Texas around Austin and San Antonio; and Channel Islands of California. A map of the priority areas identified is below.
The authors made specific note that the Blue Ridge Mountains along the Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee borders are public lands that are insufficiently protected. Much of this area is National Forest that does not have an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) rating. The article states that “[r]aising the protection level of these lands, emphasizing ecosystem protection and low-impact recreation over extractive uses, would be a major conservation gain.”
The Blue Ridge Mountains area, which provides a habitat for “substantial biodiversity,” was “recommended for immediate conservation attention.” This study underlines why public and private conservation must focus on biodiversity priorities in Virginia and throughout the U.S.
Wild Virginia is a grassroots, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Virginia’s national forests through education and advocacy. Click here join our action listserv and stay connected with our work and help protect these special places.
Biological Sciences – Ecology:
Clinton N. Jenkins,
Kyle S. Van Houtan,
Stuart L. Pimm,
and Joseph O. Sexton
US protected lands mismatch biodiversity priorities PNAS 2015 112 (16) 5081-5086; published ahead of print April 6, 2015, doi:10.1073/pnas.1418034112
On September 9th, Wild Virginia’s President, Ernie Reed, and Conservation Director, David Sligh, led a group of hikers on a tour of the proposed route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). Participants gathered at Shenandoah Joe’s for some coffee, snacks, and small talk before piling into vans and hitting the road to Nelson County. Nelson County is one of Virginia’s regions that will be most effected by Dominion’s proposed pipeline, which will bring construction within feet of some residents’ homes, bulldoze through nature preserves, and pollute the area’s source of freshwater and drinking water.
The first stop on the tour was at the Rockfish Valley Foundation Natural History Center to see where part of the pipeline would cut through the beautiful mountain valley and across land dedicated to the historic site. Ernie and David explained the negative impacts that the pipeline would have on residents of Nelson County and how Dominion continues to skirt around these issues. The proposed route has been changed countless times, weaving through different nature preserves and regions of lower income. Dominion continues to claim that the pipeline will have no impact on property values and that construction close to houses will not affect residents’ daily lives. Dominion insists that once construction has ended, the pipeline will be invisible, but it’s clear looking at the open valley skyline that the pipeline will be anything but invisible.
The second stop was at the home of Lilla and Will Fenton where the couple runs a family inn with a spectacular view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Dominion has taken the couple to court twice when the the Fentons refused to allow surveying of their land, but still to no avail. The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would run within 20 feet of the inn and construction would reduce the visitors to the inn to zero, and ruin their livelihood. The couple refused to back down and will sue Dominion for damages if or when the first dozer touches their property.
Their story is not unique in Nelson county, where residents along the route are standing their ground against Dominion and refusing to let the energy company take their land and destroy the natural beauty of the mountains. And these residents are not alone in their fight–environmental groups across the state, from community coalitions to nonprofits to law firms, are pushing back against Dominion’s faulty research and environmental impact analysis to stop the pipeline. Just this morning, the Southern Environmental Law Center, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, and the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance released a report confirming that building additional pipelines through Virginia is unnecessary, and that the Transcontinental Pipeline that currently runs along the East Coast is more than sufficient to provide needed energy from natural gas. Despite the thousands of voices against Dominion, the company continues to push for construction and ignore the obvious consequences to the environment and to public well-being.
The final stop on the tour was at one of the peaks of the Appalachian Trail, where Ernie and David led hikers into the woods to see the bare patches of hard greenstone that comprise the backbone of the old mountain chain, and to take in the scenery of the moss covered trees and the burst of green leaves that are slowly turning over to fall colors. The hike through the woods really hit home what a huge loss Virginia would suffer if Dominion gets the go-ahead to build their pipeline.
You can make a difference by signing the petition to tell the Forest Service “No pipelines through our national forests!” Every voice matters in the fight to protect our forests and our community!
To read the report by the Southern Environmental Law Firm disavowing the necessity of a new pipeline, click here.
Wild Virginia sent the following letter to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe today:
Re: Letter of Support for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Dear Mr. Sitting Bear:
Wild Virginia supports the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and joins the tribe in opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. We join you and many thousands of others who are rising to say clearly and without hesitation “NO” to projects like this one that abuse the land, the water, and the people who love and depend on these resources.
This pipeline is a violent assault on both the heritage and the future well-being of your people and all of the people whom it will affect – and as we know those affects are not confined to the vicinity of the project but are global in scale. We cannot and will not allow companies grasping to gain the last few dollars from a dying fossil fuel economy destroy our legacies in the process. We will not accept the failure of agencies, like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to play their proper roles as servants of the wider public, not just of the powerful few.
Your tribe’s resolute action to protect the land and water is a shining example of the commitment we all need to have if we are to save our earth. We are with you and know that your struggle is ours as well.
The Wood Turtle inhabits only the northernmost region of Virginia, from the counties of Arlington and Fairfax west through Frederick County and Shenandoah County. A protected species, given a Virginia Wildlife Action Plan rating of Tier 1 – Critical Conservation Need – Glyptemys insculpta faces many threats.
Due to continual urbanization and intense habitat destruction, the Wood Turtle’s range is shrinking westward and its population numbers are falling in Virginia. In addition to habitat fragmentation, water pollution caused by chemical runoff poisons the Wood Turtle’s aquatic habitats in the Potomac and Shenandoah River Basins. Sadly, these wonderful creatures are even the target of poaching and many are removed from the wild and placed in captivity.
Without the aid of conscious individuals like yourselves, increased education and the spread of awareness, the Wood Turtle will soon disappear from The Old Dominion as its range and population numbers continue to diminish. One helpful course of action is to report any sightings to The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. There is a VDGIF regional office located in Verona, Shenandoah County.
For a great resource to learn more about the Wood Turtle and other turtles of our state, visit The Virginia Herpetological Society’s website by clicking here.
Also, individuals may sign up as citizen scientists or register their land to have their property surveyed for native plants and wildlife, including the Wood Turtle, with Virginia Working Landscapes, a network convened by The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI)
On July 9th and 10th, learn first aid for outdoor excursions alongside Wild Virginia’s President, Ernie Reed, in a two-day Outdoor First Aid learning program, taught by Matt Rosefsky. With 10% of the course proceeds going to Wild Virginia, this is a great event to not only support us, but to learn how to take care of yourself out in the wilderness! Adults and children 12 and older can enroll for the two day class HERE. Upon completion participants receive the SOLO Wilderness First Aid certification, valid for 2 years.
Mired in a disaster zone, travel or rural area far from a hospital, or natural area miles from an access point … accidents, destructive weather, and terrorism happen, and all-too-often members of a group are not capable of dealing with the emergency. This leads to improper care of the patient, and endangers the entire group. Many recreational accidents are preventable, and improper care of trauma can compound even simple injuries. Very few first aid programs actually address the issues of providing emergency care in a setting where 911 is overwhelmed or not immediately reachable. In this course, classroom instruction and Q&A are interwoven with practical work and problem-solving exercises. Hands-on experience – a most powerful learning tool – during scenarios comprise ~50% of class. 8:30am – 6:30pm both days; you come away with actual do-it-yourself care-giving confidence.
Enroll HERE and make sure you are prepared for anything out there, even making an impromptu splint!
It is not too late to become a FERC Intervenor!! The deadline to sign up and comment is June 2nd.
Wild Virginia works to keep you informed about when and how you can best make your voice heard. One of those moments is now.
1) Make Comments:
The Forest Service is calling for comments on whether or not to issue a “right-of-way grant” that would allow the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross and occupy National Forest lands, and whether the George Washington National Forest should amend its 10 year plan to allow the ACP to cross the forest. Click Here for Sample Comments
A study released on May 18 examines effects on areas close to the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) right-of-way during and after construction.
Some of the external costs described would be:
lost property value along the right-of-way: $779,400 to $2.4 million
reduced tax revenues
a decrease in economic development
ecosystem damage and loss: $119.1 – $130.8 million annually
During construction, the right-of-way would be at least 125 feet wide and require the clearing of trees and other vegetation. The pipeline trench would be about seven feet deep in most places. On the way, the MVP would pass through George Washington National Forest as well as Jefferson National Forest.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is currently working with a consultant on an environmental impact study which is necessary before the project continues. A spokeswoman for Mountain Valley Pipeline, pointed to the “broad, bipartisan coalition of public officials, residents, companies and pro-business groups that support the Mountain Valley Pipeline because of its significant economic benefits.” It is the point of view of the FERC that its review policy “balances the public benefits against the potential adverse consequences,” and Gov. McAuliffe is supporting the project.
Lead author Spencer Phillips said, however, that FERC’s review system is “really a rigged game for the industry.”
Overall the report concludes that “no systematic consideration of the potential negative economic effects — economic costs — of the MVP has been completed.”
Charlottesville-based Key-Log Economics prepared the study
Adams, Duncan. (5/18/16). Study backed by Mountain Valley Pipeline opponents suggests negative economic impacts for region. Richmond Times
Large mammals have roamed the Earth for millions of years. From the lions and elephants of the Serengeti, to the bison and grizzly bears of North America, these animals are essential to their surrounding ecosystems. Many are indicator species that signal the health of their ecosystem simply through their presence. These large organisms often control other populations through predator prey relationships and can even create habitat for smaller organisms through grazing and stampedes. But with a large animal comes a large set of requirements to live a healthy lifestyle. These animals require lots of land to roam in order to find food, mate, and continue their traditional migrations. Human development has encroached on the land these large organisms need to survive. Populations are becoming fragmented and species are losing their genetic diversity, forcing some near the brink of extinction. The National Parks created years ago are becoming isolated natural islands across the landscape that lack the amount of room required by many species.
The film Wild Ways, produced by NOVA, explores the conservation progress in the western United States and Canada to connect Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon corridor. Overpasses, tunnels, and protected land areas are being built to establish more natural routes between the currently isolated habitats of these organisms.
The connection of these fragmented environments would produce a safe haven for animals to live, feed, and breed without the threat of getting shot or becoming road-kill on a four-lane highway. This linkage of national parks within the Rocky Mountains would help meet the needs of other species as well and attempt to recreate the large ecosystem that was in place before European colonization of the west.
Our own George Washington and Jefferson National Forests have the potential to encompass a large link in this chain for Virginia. Wild ways have the opportunity to connect valuable areas and protect not only the large mammals that exist in these ecosystems but also educate humans on how we can achieve a healthier balance with nature.
On April 6th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected two species of crayfish in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia under the Endangered Species Act.
This listing comes in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity. The Big Sandy crayfish and the Guyandotte River crayfish have lost more than half of their habitat ranges due to water pollution, primarily from coal mining and the construction of highways and expressways. The protection of these crayfish under the ESA means it is now illegal for any person or corporation to harm the crayfish or their habitat and that federal agencies will need to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Services before permitting any activity that could harm the animal. Crayfish are considered a keystone animal—they create habitat used by other species, help to keep streams clean by eating decaying plant and animal matter, and are, in turn, eaten by fish, birds, and reptiles. They are a crucial link in the food and ecosystem web.
Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity notes that “protecting these two crayfish under the Endangered Species Act will not only ensure their survival but will also protect streams and water quality that are important for people.” The Center for Biological Diversity concludes that recent scientific studies have determined that mountaintop-removal coal mining has adverse effects on fish, crayfish, mussels, amphibians and stream insects in Appalachia and is also associated with increased risk of cancer and birth defects in humans.
This listing is one step in the right direction to begin to regain the health and integrity of our ecosystems that are depended upon by both humans and animals alike.
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A grassroots membership, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving wild forest ecosystems in Virginia's National Forests through education and advocacy