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Threats to National Monuments and Endangered Species Under Trump Administration

As the Trump administration officially takes control of the White House on Friday, there are a number of environmental policy changes and appointments that already have environmentalists pushing back. With media focus on the upcoming inauguration, it’s easy to miss some of these new developments. Luckily, Wild Virginia is here to keep you informed and up to speed. Today, we will cover threats to the Antiquities Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The Antiquities Act

The Antiquities Act, which gives the president power to designate land as national monuments without congressional approval, is

Muir Woods National Monument

under attack by a group of senators lead by Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). The group of 26 senators is proposing an amendment to the Antiquities Act that would require extra steps before a president can designate land as a national monument:

  1. Congress must approve the designation. This means that the president must wait for congressional approval–which often means long voting periods and partisan conflict–before setting aside land for conservation.
  2. The state containing the potential conservation land must also approve the designation before the land can become a national monument. When the monument in question is located offshore (aka ocean acreage), then all states within 100 miles of the monument must approve the appointment.  This means more waiting, more fighting, and less likelihood of the land being protected from drilling for oil or fracking for gas.
  3. The president must prove that the appointment of a national monument is within the guidelines of the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires environmental assessments and impact statements before environmental policy can be set in motion. Again, this means more waiting, more arguments, and more chances for the monument appointment to be thwarted.
Devil’s Tower National Monument www.nps.gov

The Antiquities Act is one of the most powerful tools a president has to protect the environment, and almost every president has exercised this power since the bill passed in 1907.  The current fight against the Act is in response to President Obama’s latest designation of Bears Ears and Gold Butte National Monuments, pushing his total land conservation to 554 million acres over the last eight years.

Bears Ears National Monument www.suwa.org
Bears Ears National Monument www.suwa.org

Some see the designation of these national monuments as no more than Federal Government land grabs, that threaten the rights and livelihoods of local residents who do not have a say. However, Obama’s monument designations do not change current grazing permits, water rights, or fish or wildlife management. They do not limit use of the land by residents. The designations simply make the land off limits to further oil and gas exploration, which is a critical step in the fight to reverse the effects of climate change.

Threats to the Endangered Species Act

Conservatives and some Democrats, are pushing to make changes to the Endangered Species Act.  These changes would greatly limit the Act’s influence.  This monumental law, passed in 1973 to restore the declining bald eagle population, has been critical to the protection of species threatened by human development and habitat loss.  Many of the species on the endangered list rely on conservation efforts for survival, and the Act has prevented the extinction of almost all of the 1,600 plants and animals on its list.

Some see the Act as a means for the Federal Government to take control of lands and block efforts to revive the economy and create new jobs. The Act allows large areas of land that contain critical habitat and endangered species to be made “off-limits” to human development. This means no drilling, logging, fracking, or deforestation.

Reforms proposed to the Act include limiting the number of species that can be listed as endangered at one time, removing a species from the list for every new one added, focusing on only one species’ rehabilitation at a time, and putting limits on lawsuits used to protect land.  What many of these proposals boil down to is placing resource extraction and energy infrastructure ahead of wildlife protection for at least the next four years.

An Lesson from a Salt Marsh

When species begin going extinct in large numbers, it means something is seriously out of balance in the natural ecosystems where they live. When those ecosystems are out of balance, it means they are not functioning the way they should be.  This has consequences for humans too. Take salt marshes as an example: salt marshes may not be the prettiest ecosystem with the cutest animals–think lots of fish and bugs and stinky mud–but they play a critical role in protecting human health.

Salt Marsh in Virginia

As coastal wetlands, salt marshes mitigate rising sea levels and weaken storm surges to prevent coastal flooding. Their tall grasses and sticky, organic mud trap pollution and sediments from the water, helping to make the ocean cleaner and its inhabitants healthier.  Salt marshes are also natural nurseries for fish, which is especially important as we continue to overfish and pollute the ocean.  Fish are a major part of the human diet all over the world, so coastal wetlands are crucial sources of food to humans.  But when insects and invertebrates start to go extinct, it means less food for hatchling fish.  Fewer fish means fewer waterfowl and less food for humans. And without the wildlife to keep plants, sediments, and soil microbes in balance, salt marshes begin to collapse too.

The ecosystems protected under the Endangered Species Act are important to humans for more than just their gas or coal. They are important for the food, clean air, and clean water they provide.  They are necessary as climate sinks to reduce atmospheric carbon and  slow the effects of climate change.  If the Endangered Species Act is limited or repealed, humans will lose the wide range of services these coastal wetlands mountains and great plains provide.

Some see Donald Trump’s incoming presidency as their chance to roll back environmental policies that are “blocking economic development.” To these decision makers, the Antiquities Act and Endangered Species Act are roadblocks to oil, gas, and coal industries, and must be repealed under the guise of protecting the working class American. But as we see climate change having more immediate impacts with record breaking annual temperatures and increasing numbers of severe storms, promoting coal, gas, and oil production hurts every American.

What is needed is a shift to renewable energy sources, which have the potential to create thousands of new jobs if embraced with the same enthusiasm as oil and coal in past decades. It is more important now than ever that people get involved at the grassroots level to have their voice heard, and show this new administration that climate change matters.


Our Federal Lands At Risk

by Lillian Anderson

This week, the House of Representatives passed a new rules package that places our federal lands at risk.

source: arcgis.com
Map of U.S. Federal Lands, source: arcgis.com

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.

George Washington National Forest
George Washington National Forest

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.

Find out who your representative is here: http://ourwild.wilderness.org/#/action


The Washington Post: House GOP rules change will make it easier to sell off federal land

Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains Recommended as Future Priority Conservation Area

by Julia Travers

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.

Click to enlarge







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

Wild Virginia Leads Tour of the Pipeline Route

By Jessie Thuma

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.

Deirdre Skogen

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.

Deirdre Skogen

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.

For more information, see:

Proposed Interstate Natural Gas Pipelines Not Needed

DPMC Story Map: Atlantic Coast Pipeline–A Question of Need

Wild Virginia Supports Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in Opposing Dakota Pipeline

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 legac14264193_10150677314974970_5071559841030318524_nies 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.

In Solidarity,

David Sligh
Conservation Director                                                                             

Ernie Reed                                

Wood Turtles Need Our Help

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.

Steve Kritchbaum
Photo: Steve Kritchbaum

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)

By: Thomas Proutt

Outdoor First Aid Training!

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!

first aid trainingpic

Three steps to fight the Atlantic Coast Pipeline – Make Sure to Comment Before June 2nd!


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

2) Become an Intervenor:

Click Here for the FERC Intervention Guide

3) Sign our Petition:

Comment via the means above and then please also sign and share our ONLINE PETITION

What is The True Economic Costs of the Mountain Valley Pipeline?

mountains-blogA 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

Economic Costs of the Mountain Valley Pipeline: Effects on Property Value, Ecosystem Services, and Economic Development in Virginia and West Virginia: http://keylogeconomics.com/wp1/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/EconomicCostsOfTheMVP_TechnicalReport_FINAL_20160516.pdf

Post by Mark Lewis mark@cvillems.com

Wild Ways: Building Natural Highways for Animals

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.

Wild Virginia is supporting similar programs like these discussed in Wild Ways here in the east by collaborating with the Wildlands Network.  The Wildlands Network is working with conservationists and non-profits to develop the Eastern Wildway© a corridor of connectivity that would stretch from Quebec to Florida.


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.

Watch the Film Wild Ways here to learn more!  FILM LINK