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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:

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!