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Action Alert to Protect Our National Forests

4dd4e3d5-e94e-4f78-8261-5586f835cbaeThis week, Congress will be voting an appropriations bill that is slated to include provisions that would that would significantly harm national forests. These appropriations are part of a wider deal to reform federal spending on the wildfire budget, allowing more disaster funds to be used for fire fighting. What this means, however, is that more U.S. Forest Service funds could be used for forest management projects such as logging and biomass removal.  We’re asking you to make a quick phone call to ask your Senators and Representatives to oppose including any forest management provisions in this appropriations bill, especially any new categorical exclusion (CE) for intensive logging to create early successional habitat.

CE’s exempt projects from normal rules for environmental analysis and public input.  This promotes clear cutting of mature forest and would have a disproportionate, harmful impact on our small, special national forests in the Southern Appalachian mountains and would contradict efforts to encourage more restoration-oriented forest management.

How do we keep Congress from passing these provisions?

  • Call your Senators and Representatives  as soon as possible to urge your lawmakers that no forest management provisions should be incorporated into the appropriations bill. We are especially adamant that a categorical exclusion for early successional habitat not be included. Here’s a link to search for your elected officials.

Below you will find a few terms that help you understand what is at risk:

  • Early successional habitat (ESH): ESH is a “change in plant communities as a result of some kind of disturbance,” caused by forest fires or human activity such as logging. ESH is also what hunters call “cover,” including the early growth vegetation in a forest, such as underbrush, thickets, and saplings.  In terms of this bill, creating ESH entails a clear-cutting technique of mature forests favorable to commercial logging. Those of us in the conservation camp are concerned about ecosystem restoration, and we know that leaving forests intact contributes to soil health, ecosystem integrity, and carbon sequestering.
  • Categorical exclusions:  “a category of actions which do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment…and…for which, therefore, neither an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement is required.” –40 CFR 1508.4. Categorical exclusions eliminate the mandate for environmental analysis of potential impacts and remove the ability of the public to participate in the decision.
  • Wildlife Disaster Funding Act (WDFA): A bill created in 2014 that allowed wildfire funding to come from disaster funds, and not be “borrowed” from other sources.

News Updates on Wildfire Funding and the Federal Budget:

 

With Warming, East Coast Forests Sequester More CO2

As a human species, we seem to be doing our best to overwhelm the natural balances of the earth: we waste about 1/3 of all food produced (and up to 40% in the U.S.), we cut down 46-58,000 square miles of forest a year, and scientists predict global temperature increases as high as 8.6° by 2100. Yet, despite ourselves, the earth is still trying to correct our mistakes.

Recent research published in Nature Climate Change shows that extended growing seasons in East Coast forests due to increasing temperatures actually increases the amount of carbon that the forests can absorb. Because the trees are “leafing out earlier in the spring” and holding onto leaves later into the fall, the forests have an extended time to undergo the photosynthesis process (which intakes carbon to make glucose, for those of us needing a 9th grade biology refresher). While increased temperatures also means increased respiration (a process that produces carbon dioxide),  this study shows that the two processes together still create a net increase of carbon dioxide storage.

However promising this news may be, this research only accelerates the necessity to keep East Coast forests intact. Threats to our forests abound, including logging, biomass removal, fracking and natural gas infrastructure. The NOAA report on the study warns:

Forests may help reduce the growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide and slow future warming. But at the same time, climate change is increasing the vulnerability of many U.S. forests to fire, insect infestations, drought, and disease outbreaks. These disturbances raise the potential for large releases of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

Protecting our forests, and forests worldwide, is critical to mitigate climate change and atmospheric carbon.  Wild Virginia works everyday to preserve our Natural Forests, raising our voice against logging, pipelines, and habitat destruction. We’re anything but alone in this fight. Our friends at Dogwood Alliance are leading the charge against logging and biomass removal in Southern U.S. forests. Appalachian Voices fights against mountaintop removal coal mining, which strips mountain ecosystems in the Appalachian mountains. While our forests are doing their best to survive and adapt to man-made changes, we must ensure that these forests thrive.

The forests we protect, in turn, protect us.

Civilian Air Force Group Provides Pipeline Oversight

The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC), headed by retired UVA Senior Scientist Rick Webb, seeks to keep  Virginia politicians, government bodies, and Dominion on their toes concerning environmental effects of pipelines and natural gas infrastructure. To identify potential problems, DPMC runs a civilian air force that takes photographs of existing and planned infrastructure sites.

In their latest investigative effort, the DPMC uncovered that the Colombia Gas pipeline in Giles County was non-compliant with soil, water disposal, and other environmental regulations. Although the DPMC contacted the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) about a breach that happened in July 2015, the DEQ has yet to respond. The failure of the DEQ to implement sanctions or consequences on Columbia Gas suggests that the DEQ will overlook future mistakes and regulation oversight by Dominion during the construction and operation of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. 

Here’s the press release from the DPMC:

The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition filed a complaint with the Virginia DEQ on November 11th concerning non-compliance with environmental regulations at the Columbia Gas pipeline on Peters Mountain in Giles County, Virginia.

Our complaint alleged that Columbia Gas failed to protect sensitive environmental resources, failed to comply with its own self-certified erosion and sediment control plans, and failed to prepare a stormwater management plan.
 
MOST NOTABLE AMONG THE PROBLEMS:  Drainage from the pipeline corridor is discharged directly into a sinkhole connected to the water supply of Peterstown, West Virginia.
 
A diesel-spill on the construction site contaminated the water supply system in July 2015 forcing a two and a half week shutdown and emergency reliance on water piped-in from Giles County. Surface water runoff from the pipeline corridor continues to drain into the sinkhole.
 
While the DEQ has not responded to our complaint, a Columbia Gas spokesman has dismissed the public-water-system-contamination incident, reportedly stating that he was not sure the situation “qualified as an event” where enforcement action by the agency was needed.
 
We contend that this situation represents an unacceptable public health risk, and that it would not have happened if DEQ had properly reviewed the project’s erosion and sediment control and stormwater management plans and inspected the project during construction. Our complaint, however, goes beyond this immediate situation.
 
OUR COMPLAINT ILLUSTRATES ON A LOCAL SCALE WHAT WE FACE ON A REGIONAL SCALE WITH MULTIPLE PROPOSALS FOR MUCH-LARGER PIPELINES ACROSS STEEP MOUNTAINS AND KARST VALLEYS.
 
Our complaint is about regulatory dysfunction and official indifference in the face of environmental crisis.
 
We are among multiple environmental organizations and local government bodies that have petitioned the governor and other state officials to ensure meaningful DEQ oversight of pipeline projects. As with our current complaint to the DEQ, we are waiting for a response.
 
See the attached photo of Peterstown in relation to the Columbia Gas pipeline. More information and recent photos obtained by the Pipeline Air Force are provided on the DPMC website. See: We do the right thing: Always have.
PipelineSiteFor more information or to get involved, contact:

Extreme proposal to drill though Shenandoah Mountain

Dominion has responded to concerns about impacts to the rare Cow Knob salamander with an extreme proposal to drill though Shenandoah Mountain. The so-called horizontal directional drilling would involve two separate sections of 1.3 and 1.1 miles. Damage to Cow Knob salamander habitat would not be completely avoided, a native brook trout stream would be unavoidably damaged, and a critical karst system would be placed at unacceptable risk.

This map is an approximation of the proposed route modification and drilling locations, based on a narrative description submitted to FERC by Dominion. The public does not have access to detailed mapping or details of the proposal, which Dominion has designated “privileged.”

Inline image 1

For more information, see:

 

Panels, Not Pipelines: Virginia’s Renewable Future

ACPvcleanenergy-info-longThe coalition of citizens, naturalists, biologists, scholars, families, landowners, and forest-enthusiasts fighting our region’s natural gas infrastructure know that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) threatens the region as we know it. The ACP, if built, will pose an imminent risk to air quality, water quality, community and environmental integrity, as well as legal rights and constitutional due process. The ACP is slated to cross the George Washington National Forest, diminishing the widely documented value of contiguous forest land and directly putting human users and wildlife habitat at risk.

These matters are absolutely critical to the future of citizenship and public health. As we know, however, Dominion single-mindedly directs their energy to follow corporate financial reward. Thus, a crucial step in dismantling Dominion’s plans to construct the ACP is to prove that investment in renewable energy is not only a must for the future of the planet, but financially feasible as well.

CCAN, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, released a stunning graphic (see end of post) this month to illustrate what would happen if the $5.1 billion it would take to build the proposed ACP were instead invested in clean renewable energy. Dominion, as well as their propaganda spin-off Energy Sure, have made various claims about the supposed necessity and benefits of the ACP, including fuel cost savings for consumers, “cleaner air,” and job creation across the region.  Additionally, Dominion purports that natural gas facilitates a transition to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Throughout their promotional materials and social media platforms, the Dominion and Energy Sure campaigns have employed a misleading family-centric, business-minded approach that in actuality, speaks foremost to Dominion corporate profit.

Until now, Dominion has pushed the ACP using their seemingly winning numerical logic of job creation, increased tax revenue, and business relocation to states serviced by the ACP. While there might be some validity to these numbers proposed by Dominion, CCAN’s data refutes Dominion’s underlying premise that natural gas infrastructure is the means to reach maximum job and business growth. CCAN’s modeling shows that while the ACP would only bring 1,462 temporary construction jobs and 118 permanent jobs, a $5 billion investment in solar would bring 2,500 temporary jobs and 226 permanent. With an even higher return, a $5 billion investment in wind energy would bring 7,000 temporary jobs and 1,752 permanent jobs. The same $5 billion invested in wind energy would bring more permanent jobs than the ACP could even offer temporary workers.

Thanks to CCAN’s thorough research efforts, Dominion can no longer justify the ACP’s risks with the promise of jobs and business opportunities for Virginians. Dominion, you can balance corporate profit with corporate responsibility. Renewables unmistakably offer that future. As for Virginians, we’ll breathe easy, keep our lights on, and take in the majestic view of pipeline-free National Forests.

So here it is, CCAN’s comparison:CCAN ACP

Objections to USFS Lower Cowpasture Project

On September 14, 2015, Wild Virginia filed an objection to the Forest Service’s “Lower Cowpasture Project.” (Read the objection here.) While the U.S. Forest Service includes logging, biomass removal, controlled burning, and dam reconstruction in their idea of “restoration,” Wild Virginia seeks to instead restore wilderness, ecosystems, and habitat area to the Lower Cowpasture region.

This is an especially important project, as it sets management plans on over 77,000 acres  of National Forest land. This is the first Environmental Assessment in which George Washington National Forest officials have examined such a large-scale area to plan specific actions, in what they have termed a “landscape scale” project review.

Wild Virginia continually expressed concerns, throughout the review process, about practices we oppose or think need extra scrutiny. We have now renewed those concerns in the form of a formal objection, in accordance with federal regulations. Whereas the USFS has deemed the Lower Cowpasture Project as a project of “no significant impact,” Wild Virginia’s Ernie Reed contests in Wild Virginia’s formal objections that, “Labeling these [projects] as having “no significance’ is not based on objective data but instead is based on an arbitrary standard of “significance.”

Some prominent and troublesome issues include:

  • a plan to perform “controlled burns” on nearly 12,000 acres, leading to degradation of air and water quality
  • removal of “biomass,” consisting of debris from commercial cuts and and small “unmarketable” trees – an activity which will cost taxpayers but benefit just one entity, the WestRock paper mill (formerly Meade Westvaco) in Covington, VA, which it will burn to create power at the plant
  • activities planned in this project may significantly alter the hydrologic cycles on and around the sites, including flow cycles in streams, tributaries, and downstream waters
  • the USFS proposal only examines human-instigated management techniques of logging and controlled burning, without consideration of future natural disturbances such as insect predation, drought, windthrow, ice storms, floods, or natural fire
  • the closest ozone monitor station is 32 km away from the Lower Cowpasture site, current air flow patterns may prevent this monitor from responding to ozone changes resulting from controlled burns at Lower Cowpasture

Wild Virginia contends that these and other activities proposed by the Forest Service are not supported by the best scientific findings or sufficient data. Therefore, we advocate improved monitoring and information gathering before the targeted activities may start and continual monitoring during and after the projects are done. We will keep you up-to-date on the status of our objection.

For further comments or inquiry, contact Wild Virginia’s Conservation Director, David Sligh:
davidwsligh@yahoo.com
434-964-7455

Civic Engagement Training: Launching a Successful Campaign

You feel adamant that the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline threatens Virginia ecosystems, families, and communities. So then, how do you most effectively bring your voice to the lawmakers who have the jurisdiction to decide that the pipeline is not part of Virginia’s energy future?

During the weekend of August 29-30, the Virginia Civic Engagement Table (VCET) sponsored a civic engagement training in downtown Richmond to equip individual citizens and citizen organizations with the tactics and skills needed to shape the opinions of legislators, and consequently, the outcome of concrete policies in Virginia law. The training aimed to demonstrate first of all, that citizen voices can become a part of the legislative process, and second, how to most effectively gain traction for your cause within the General Assembly.

VCET Meeting
Virginia Delegate Ken Plum, D-Fairfax County, meets with participants of the VCET Civic Engagement Training

At the outset of the training, Julie Emery, VCET Executive Director stressed the following wisdom: “We do not have a government of the majority, but a majority of those who participate.” Meaning, unless you speak up for your issue and establish relationships with our representatives in government, lawmakers will lack the insight that drives you to be so committed to your cause.

Making the decision to speak up about your issue is the first step of advocacy. Following that initial decision, effective tactics and well-planned goals immediately become essential to the success of your campaign.

On the first day of the training, campaign leaders who have led successful reform movements in Virginia shared their tactics with the participants, and group break-out sessions contributed more ideas of what constitutes a successful campaign.  Here’s a selection of some of those ideas:

Characteristics of a Winning Campaign

    • Your campaign is “winnable” with both intermediary goals and a clear end-goal.
    • Your campaign builds a broad coalition that joins supporters from diverse income levels, geographic areas, racial backgrounds, and occupations.
    • Participants know they have a stake in the process and the outcome.
    • Your campaign message can be demonstrated in a visual or noteworthy way, optimizing the message for media distribution.
    • Your campaign builds relationships on both sides of the issue, seeking common ground through emotions, personal history, and values.

We’d say that the anti-pipeline movement in Virginia is already is making formidable use of these tactics. Just this past spring, four James Madison University students, created Won’t Pipe Down, a documentary film interviewing Nelson County residents about the devastating impact the pipeline would bring for their businesses and their communities. In May, over forty Virginia students biked along the proposed route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to speak with landowners and connect with the land at stake. In August, members of the Virginia anti-pipeline movement launched Hands Across Our Land, a demonstration that spread to eight states protesting fracking and natural gas pipelines.

During the next few weeks, the Wild Virginia blog will be rolling out a series in conjunction with anti-pipeline activists across our region to further investigate how they’re wielding the campaign tactics listed above to call attention to illegal corporate activity, battle potentially catastrophic energy infrastructure, and fight for the preservation of the land we all know and love. Stay tuned!