New wilderness areas to make Virginians proud

Amid a lot of recent hustle and bustle, I’ve been waiting for a chance to talk about the new wilderness areas just created in southwestern Virginia. There’s a good rundown here of the Virginia Ridge and Valley Act: 53,000 newly protected acres in the Jefferson National Forest, designated as wilderness by Congress on March 25. President Obama signed off on the act five days later, and Charlottesville’s own Southern Environmental Law Center is cheering. So are a bunch of other folks. And the larger conservation bill of which the Act is a part is described by many as a true landmark—a really significant piece of legislation, in terms of keeping at least some parts of the environment clean.

Count me among the pleased. I’m always glad to see wild places protected from logging, mining, drilling, and other extractive activities. To private companies who would seek to make fortunes by marring public space, I say, Get off my land! And to those who work to get laws like this one passed, I say, Keep fighting the good fight.

And to all us average citizens, I say this: Let’s try to remember that no matter how much of our state we set aside as "Wilderness," we spend most of our time in places that carry no special designation at all. These places are truly our environment, as in daily surroundings, much more so than isolated mountaintops in Bland County. And while it’s completely worthwhile to support the Ridge and Valley Act and other laws like it, it’s just as important in the end to take care of our cities, suburbs and farmland—the places where we breathe and drink water and raise kids and eat food. Saving wilderness while polluting our own habitat would really be quite bizarre.

Experiment: Think of Charlottesville as the Charlottesville Wilderness, or declare your own yard a Scenic Area, and see whether that changes your behavior. Still feel like putting pesticides on the lawn? Still dumping Drano into the bathtub?

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