On March 30, President Obama signed the Virginia Ridge and Valley Act into law, along with other measures in the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act. With a 285-140 vote in the U.S. House, Congress passed the bill on March 25. Permanently protecting more than 53,000 acres in the publicly owned Jefferson National Forest, this is the largest wilderness bill in the Southern Appalachians in the last decade.
The Virginia Ridge and Valley Act establishes six new wilderness areas, a wilderness study area and two new national scenic areas, and expands several existing wilderness areas, all in the mountains of southwest Virginia. The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act also includes dozens of other land-protection measures around the country, among them a wilderness bill in West Virginia. The Senate passed the bill March 19 on a 77-20 vote.
SELC scored a major victory on March 25 when Congress passed the Virginia Ridge and Valley Act, forever protecting 53,000 wild acres in the Jefferson National Forest, in Virginia. SELC worked for several years with our partner conservation groups, and a broad coalition of citizens, organizations, business leaders, and elected officials to secure congressional protection for some of southwest Virginia’s most pristine mountain forests.
The Virginia Ridge and Valley Act, passed as part of an omnibus public lands bill, protects 43,000 acres as Wilderness or Wilderness Study Areas, and more than 10,000 acres in two new National Scenic Areas. By passing this law, Congress ensures that these remarkable public lands remain undisturbed by logging, mining and roadbuilding, while still affording access for hiking, hunting, fishing, and other recreational uses.
The legislation is the result of a bipartisan, collaborative effort by Representative Rick Boucher of Virginia and Senator John Warner of Virginia (now retired), who originally introduced the bills to the House and Senate in 2004. Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner of Virginia are co-sponsors of the bill this year, and VIrginia Governor Tim Kaine has also been a ardent supporter.
In addition, numerous local, regional, and national environmental and recreational organizations worked to help pass the Virginia Ridge and Valley Act, including Virginia Tourism Corporation, Garden Club of Virginia and several local chapters, Appalachian Trail Conference, Mt. Rogers Outfitters, Blue Ridge Mountain Sports, Virginia Audubon Council, Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited, Committee on Stewardship of the Creation-Episcopal Diocese of Virginia,
Scenic America, International Mountain Bicycling Association
The bill now goes to the President to be signed into law.
The new Virginia areas brought into the national wilderness system today include:
- Garden Mountain (3,291 acres), Hunting Camp Creek (8,470 acres), and Lynn Camp Creek (3,226 acres) in Bland County;
- Brush Mountain (4,794 acres) in Montgomery County;
- Stone Mountain (3,270) in Lee County;
- Raccoon Branch (4,223 acres in Smyth County; and
- Brush Mountain East (3,769 acres) in Craig County.
Also, two new national scenic areas - Bear Creek (5,503 acres), and Seng Mountain (6,455 acres) both in Smyth County - were included in the bill, as were additions of six existing wilderness areas from Craig County down to Grayson County.
To see the list of endorsers of the Virginia Ridge and Valley Act, click> here for PDF article