We drove into the Oakland School on a crisp Wednesday morning. The campus was beautiful— rolling hills littered with white paneled, barn-house style buildings. I was there with Bette and Lilly, two other Wild Virginia volunteers, to teach a youth group about the importance of different habitat types for animals.
There were about 20 students joining us that morning. We gathered them around in a circle and asked them if they knew what habitat was. The response was lightning-quick: “It’s where animals live!”
Then we broke into two groups and played games. I helped lead a hide-and-seek scavenger hunt and then built bird feeders. The other group played an animal charades game that led to a discussion of individual animal habitats.
We started the scavenger hunt by asking them if they knew what camouflage was. Another instant answer: “It’s how animals hide! They change their colors to blend in with the background.” It’s always refreshing to see that genuine enthusiasm for learning that kids have. We led them into the realization that animal habitats help shape animal camouflage and then we took them out to search for prey in the woods: little trinkets of various colors we had hidden here and there. Some they found easily—the bright green sock-puppet on a log; others, not so much—the wooden spoon tucked into a pile of sticks.
The kids adopted different seeking strategies. Some dashed off down the trail and shouted out all the brightly colored items while passing over some of the more subtle hiders. Others walked deliberately, preferring the glory of finding the secret cork nestled in with the leaves.
Afterwards we went inside to make bird feeders. They coated paper-towel rolls in soy butter (non-allergenic!) and then rolled them in birdseed.
The students were certainly glad to be out of the classroom and engaged with nature. They were proudly brandishing their bird feeders and chatting enthusiastically. We finished by telling them about Wild Virginia, and how we were working to help protect animal habitats in the national forests. We then waved them goodbye as they skipped down the path back to class.
On Monday, February 13th, Wild Virginia’s youth outdoor education team held our first outing with the Charlottesville Parkside and Post-High School Parks and Recreation group! The unseasonably warm and sunny weather held out, and everyone was excited to get outside and play some games.
We kicked off the activities with a camouflage scavenger hunt. Volunteers hid pipe cleaners, colorful strings, and rubber snakes around a wooded path and it was up to students to find what didn’t belong in the woods. We were very impressed to see how quickly students found what was hidden! Clearly camouflage was no match to their keen observation. After the scavenger hunt, students told us all the reasons that animals might use camouflage, including to hide from humans who want to find them!
After the scavenger hunt, we headed inside the Crow Recreation Center to do some arts and crafts stations. At table #1, students had to match animal figurines to their animal tracks and then trace their own tracks.
At table #2, students worked together to draw their own forest murals, being sure to include some animal tracks and camouflage where they could.
And at table #3, students made their own bird feeders using empty toilet paper rolls, soybutter, and bird seed. We had some pretty amazing artists in our group!
We were all disappointed that the fun had to come to an end. The Parkside and Post-High School outdoor group were enthusiastic learners and really made the afternoon one to remember. Sarah Blech, with Charlottesville City Therapeutic Parks and Rec, shared the praise from the teachers who attended:
“Wild Virginia provided our students with an imaginative, hands on, engaging class as part of our Outdoor Education series. Scavenger hunt, bird feeders, art activities—each student left with something he or she found or created—thanks Wild Virginia!”
I speak for all of the Wild Virginia volunteers when I say that we had an absolute blast and can’t wait for our upcoming outing with the Oakland School.
-by Jessie Thuma, Youth Outdoor Education Organizer and Wild Virginia intern
Bills currently being considered in the Virginia General Assembly would prevent area residents and local governments from discovering which specific fracking chemicals are being released into their communities. Tell state senators to oppose SB 1291 and SB 1292!
Drilling operations for oil and natural gas in Virginia pose a serious threat to human health and the environment. Companies inject “fracking fluids,” which contain dozens of dangerous chemicals, including cancer causing agents and toxic substances, into the ground. Contrary to industry claims, the U.S. EPA and academic researchers have proven that these chemicals sometimes contaminate drinking water sources. A major problem for the public is that the companies use different mixtures of chemicals at different locations and, without specific information, people who are threatened by these substances cannot know what they may be exposed to and are unable to protect themselves from possible health risks.
These legislative proposals would prevent the public and emergency responders from obtaining information that is in the possession of our state agencies through requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). These exclusions violate the principle that government information belongs to the public, allowing companies to hide the impacts of their activities and endanger Virginians.
Wild Virginia and our allies in conservation groups across the state strongly oppose these efforts and encourage citizens to speak up today!
General Assembly Bills
At this time, we believe contacts to your state senators will be the most useful actions you can take. One bad bill, H.B. 1678, has already passed in the Va. House of Delegates. Another even worse bill H.B. 1679 has been reported out of the Natural Resources Committee.
Bills that mirrored these two House bills have been introduced in the state Senate: S.B. 1291 and S.B. 1292. Both of these bills are now in the Finance Committee.
S.B. 1291 is the most egregious of the two – it requires that any information obtained by the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy (DMME) about the constituents in fracking fluids be exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests from citizens – it allows the DMME to divulge such information to local or state emergency responders, but only after an emergency has arisen. S.B. 1291 is completely irresponsible and unacceptable.
S.B. 1292 has been amended and possible additional changes may be included. We will continue to monitor any changes that could make this bill better, for now we believe this action is also unwise and deprives the public and some government agencies of vital information without a valid reason.
2-2-2017 UPDATE: Rep. Jason Chaffetz announced this morning that he is withdrawing this bill. Thanks to everyone who called and made comments.
Last Tuesday, Congressman Jason Chaffetz proposed HR 621. This bill will drastically impact our public lands if passed. It builds on the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act and aims tosell off upwards of 3.3 million acres of public land.
These targeted lands are based on a list generated in 1997 by the Clinton administration. The list includes federal land in the following ten states: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. While the names of the lands on the chopping block are not publicly known, the counties the lands reside in are, so we know which general areas will be affected if Chaffetz’s bill passes.
The list of lands was initially created as guidance for which areas could be sold to pay for the restoration of Everglades National Park. When the list was first released, however, it was met with resistance. These lands are home to endangered species, encompass important natural and cultural resources, and would even be quite expensive to dispose of.
The proposed bill ignores the fact that the problems surrounding selling these lands have not receded. Areas at risk include Catron, New Mexico, which likely contains pueblo ruins and also provides habitat for the endangered Mexican gray wolf. Park County, Wyoming is also listed; Park County is located near Cody, a town that is dependent on revenue generated by tourism. And the list continues…
These lands belong to the public and hold immense natural and cultural value. If this bill passes, these places will be sold to private companies and likely developed. Closer to home, this bill puts all of our public lands at greater risk of privatization.
Help fight this bill by contacting your representatives. Tell them that you care about your public lands and do not want to see them disposed of.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
David Sligh Conservation Director
Ernie Reed President
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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