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The Planet

FEATURE: Club Victory in Virginia

Club activists in Virginia are celebrating President Clinton's recent signing into law of the Mt. Pleasant National Scenic Area Act, which sets aside a 7,580-acre area in the George Washington National Forest to protect its natural-resource values.

The law ensures that the wild nature of the region will remain and forbids logging, mining, drilling for oil and gas and geothermal extraction. Unlike a wilderness bill, it allows maintenance with power tools of already developed wildlife clearings and trails, and permits motor vehicles that are being used for these maintenance purposes.

Activists have been working for years to protect Mt. Pleasant's rugged mountains, clear streams and old-growth forest. Prior to passage of the Mt. Pleasant National Scenic Act, the area was managed, as all national forests are, as a "land of many uses." That meant resource exploitation, especially logging, was commonplace.

"Here was a splendid candidate for wilderness, and there were timber sales pending," said Ernie Dickerman, the wilderness committee chair for the Sierra Club's Virginia Chapter.

Under pressure from local environmentalists, the Forest Service designated Mt. Pleasant as a "special management area" in the late 1980s -- a prescription, Dickerman said, that was a "stop-gap measure aimed at keeping the place like it is."

Activists then turned to Virginia's 6th District Democratic Rep. Jim Olin, and worked with him to craft a bill that would designate Mt. Pleasant as wilderness. Before his 1992 retirement from Congress, Olin presented the bill to the Amherst County, Va., board of supervisors. The Mt. Pleasant area includes the watershed for much of the county's drinking water supplies.

"The board of supervisors, echoing locals' concerns about safe drinking water, unanimously supported the wilderness designation not once but four times over the next several months," said Dan French, director of public utilities for Amherst County and a member of a local environmental education group, Amherst County Together for the Environment, or ACT, that worked with the Club on this effort.

But activists ran into a stumbling block with the 1992 election of a new 6th District Congressman, Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who ran on a platform that included a promise of "no new wilderness."

Once convinced of the strong local support for protection of Mt. Pleasant, however, Goodlatte began working with activists to develop a bill that offered most of the protections of wilderness but would not actually be a wilderness designation -- so as not to renege on his campaign promise. The result of that effort is the Mt. Pleasant National Scenic Area Act, one of only a handful of such designations in the country.

"We can consider it as permanent as any legal protection can be," said Dickerman. "I believe we definitely accomplished the objective that we were after."

For more information:

Contact Ernie Dickerman, (703) 337-8000, or Joy Oakes in the Sierra Club's Appalachian field office, (410) 268-7411.

SOURCE: The Planet, November 1994
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