New Addition for Rappahannock's Laurel Grove (VA)

November 4, 2009

Laurel Grove, the southernmost property within the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, was expanded by 260 acres today, The Trust for Public Land and US Fish & Wildlife Service announced. The addition, known locally as Bower Hill, has been a priority for the Refuge, and includes frontage along Farnham Creek.

Funding for the expansion of the Refuge was secured through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), with the full support of members of the Virginia congressional delegation. Efforts are underway in Congress now to permanently fund the LWCF at its fully authorized annual level of $900 million.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) completed the purchase with the assistance of The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national conservation organization that helped establish the Refuge in 1996 with some of its earliest acquisitions, as part of a partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The Refuge has a goal to conserve 20,000 acres along the river, and has acquired nearly 8,500 acres to date. TPL worked with the Reed family to acquire Bower Hill. Additions to Laurel Grove address the Refuge priority to protect important nodes along the Rappahannock River and its tributaries to keep habitat intact, protect migratory bird flyway areas, and increase public access to the watershed.

"The Rappahannock River Valley is steeped in Virginia's rich cultural and natural heritage, which the Refuge helps protect while sheltering birds and other wildlife, and offering visitors opportunities to enjoy wildlife in their natural setting," said Lynda Frost, project manager for The Trust for Public Land. "We are pleased to continue our commitment to the Rappahannock and are grateful to the Virginia congressional delegation and the many partners who helped make this addition to Laurel Grove possible."

The new addition to the north of the existing Laurel Grove property is a diverse ecological mix of tidal marsh and upland forest and is home to a bald eagle's nest.

The Virginia congressional delegation provided critical support in securing the LWCF funding. Congress created the LWCF in 1965 to reinvest revenue from offshore oil and gas royalties into protecting America's natural, cultural, and recreational heritage by acquiring land to ensure that important wildlife habitats are protected and all Americans have access to quality outdoor recreation. In order to help communities protect critical wildlife areas such as the Rappahannock, the House of Representatives' Natural Resources Committee has prepared energy legislation that includes full and dedicated funding for the LWCF at the authorized annual level of $900 million.

"I applaud The Trust for Public Land and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for working with the Commonwealth, local communities and landowners to enhance Virginia's diverse wildlife habitat," said U.S. Senator Jim Webb. "I am committed to expanding the federal Land and Water Conservation fund that was used to secure the expansion of Laurel Grove to ensure future preservation efforts."

"This project represents a significant addition to the acreage that TPL is working to preserve for the long-term protection of habitat and wildlife along the Rappahannock River," said U.S. Senator Mark Warner. "My family owns a farm on the banks of the Rappahannock and we have long recognized the ecological benefit of protecting wildlife and preserving the natural character of the region. I look forward to working with TPL and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continue our work to conserve significant watershed areas in Virginia that result in important environmental benefits for the Chesapeake Bay."

"As a member of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, I am pleased to see ongoing efforts preserve important wildlife habitat at the Rappahannock National Wildlife Refuge," said U.S. Congressman Rob Wittman. "Preserving and protecting key habitat along the Rappahannock River is an important component to improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay."

"As a member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and as an ardent conservationist, I know first hand how important groups like The Trust for Public Land and US Fish & Wildlife Service are to ensuring the protection of our national habitats," said U.S. Congressman Jim Moran. "The protection of Laurel Grove is a gift that will be enjoyed for generations."

"With the addition of Bower Hill, over 720 contiguous acres will be permanently protected along the Farnham Creek Focus Area," said Refuge Manager Joe McCauley. "It is fitting that this acquisition comes soon after National Wildlife Refuge Week when refuges across the country celebrated this uniquely American collection of lands and waters dedicated to wildlife conservation. We are grateful to all those who made this addition possible, including the Reed family who decided that wildlife conservation was the best outcome for this property."

A broad partnership of federal, state and local agencies and non-profits has conserved additional land within the Refuge boundary, including a number of conservation easement donations that have been made to Virginia Outdoors Foundation, and several conservation easements that have been purchased in part utilizing the Army Compatible Use Buffer program funding in support of Fort A.P. Hill's mission. The Trust for Public Land is part of the Rappahannock River Land Protection Partnership that received a Cooperative Conservation Award from Department of the Interior Secretary Salazar in May 2009. Since the Refuge was founded TPL has worked with landowners and the Refuge to add more than 4,500 acres to the Refuge's unique patchwork of conserved lands along the Rappahannock River.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 2.8 million acres nationwide, including more than 18,000 acres in Virginia. TPL helped establish the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge and has protected seven properties totaling nearly 4,500 acres to date.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.