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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: