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Northam opens Virginia’s 66th Natural Area Preserve

virginia politics
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Gov. Ralph Northam dedicated Piney Grove Flatwoods as Virginia’s 66th natural area preserve on Monday. The 446 acres of woodlands in Sussex County are home to numerous rare species, including the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

The new preserve is part of the 10,000-acre conservation area that includes Big Woods State Forest, Big Woods Wildlife Management Area, and The Nature Conservancy’s Big Woods.

“We have worked hard to preserve more than 120,000 additional acres to benefit Virginians,” Northam said. “Virginia’s natural area preserves have protected many of our rarest ecosystems, water quality, cultural heritage sites, and scenic views. Conservation efforts like this allow species to adapt to changing climates and are key to protecting Virginia’s environment.”

During Northam’s administration, Virginia has permanently conserved 120,218 acres of land with high conservation-value and awarded more than $21.5 million in land conservation funding and grants through the Virginia Land Conservation Fund. 3,411 new natural area preserve acres have been added, including Lyndhurst Ponds, Cave Hill, and Piney Grove Flatwoods.

Virginia’s Natural Area Preserve System consists of nearly 60,000 acres and protects many beautiful, unique places throughout the Commonwealth.

“The Piney Grove Flatwoods Natural Area Preserve is an exemplary collaborative effort between the Commonwealth and the Nature Conservancy,” said Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Ann Jennings. “It connects an ecologically significant area that spans 10,000 acres, and includes Big Woods State Forest and Big Woods Wildlife Management Area. This allows Virginia to protect large, interconnected ecosystems to provide multiple benefits and improve water quality for all.”

“Permanent protection and management of Piney Grove Flatwoods Natural Area Preserve will benefit animals and plants found in only a handful of places,” said Department of Conservation and Recreation Director Clyde E. Cristman. “This is a conservation success story for Virginia and the entire United States. The Commonwealth could not have a better partner than The Nature Conservancy in protection and stewardship of our natural heritage resources.”

“The new Piney Grove Flatwoods Natural Area Preserve safeguards a special place in Sussex County’s forests where species dependent on rare habitats—pine savannas and seasonal ponds—can thrive and survive,” said The Nature Conservancy State Director Locke Ogens. “Ensuring lasting protection of Virginia’s most important lands and waters, like Piney Grove Flatwoods, is one of the best investments we can make for the future.”

The Nature Conservancy received a grant from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation in 2020 to purchase Piney Grove Flatwoods Natural Area Preserve. They are working with the Department of Recreation and Conservation to acquire and protect the land. A Natural Area Deed of Dedication for the property was recorded in September. The deed provides the highest level of permanent land conservation possible in Virginia and prohibits land uses that would harm natural heritage resources.