RICHMOND — Governor Terry McAuliffe today announced the 84-acre expansion of Cowbane Prairie Natural Area Preserve in Augusta County. The acquisition, which more than doubles the size of the existing preserve, is the first project supported with funds from last year’s settlement with DuPont over longstanding mercury contamination from its former Waynesboro facility.
“The historic DuPont settlement is an opportunity to right a decades-old wrong while supporting increased natural resource conservation, restoration, and outdoor recreation,” said Governor McAuliffe. “I look forward to seeing how these dollars will be leveraged to create meaningful outdoor opportunities for the residents of the South River watershed while enhancing our Commonwealth’s ecological systems.”
Located on the western slope of the Blue Ridge in the Shenandoah Valley, Cowbane Prairie Natural Area Preserve protects the last remnants of prairies and calcareous spring marshes, rare natural communities that once blanketed much of the Valley. These communities have disappeared over the years because of agricultural and industrial development. Eleven rare plants are found in the preserve, and the portion of the South River within the preserve has two rare freshwater mussel species. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Natural Heritage Program manages the preserve.
“Our settlement with DuPont was the largest environmental damages settlement in Virginia history and the money we recovered will help improve Virginia waterways and natural areas like Cowbane Prairie for generations to come,” said Attorney General Mark R. Herring. “I’m really proud to have been part of the team that secured the settlement that made this important expansion possible.”
“This historic achievement would not have been possible without the cooperation and collaboration of a number of parties,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward. “Cowbane is an important project in our continued efforts to preserve and restore our at-risk natural communities throughout the Commonwealth.”
“Adding this acreage will allow restoration of 147 acres of prairie habitat not common since Europeans arrived in the valley,” said DCR Director Clyde Cristman. “This rare-habitat acquisition would not have been possible without our strong partnership with The Nature Conservancy, who helped put the final pieces together.”
“The acquisition of this tract is the latest success in our decades-long partnership with the Department of Conservation and Recreation to protect Virginia’s natural areas,” said Virginia Director of The Nature Conservancy Locke Ogens, adding, “and it will add 84 acres to the Cowbane Prairie. We first acquired our adjacent South River Preserve in 1994 through a donation from Alcoa and have since worked in collaboration with the state to conduct controlled burns to restore the magnificent remnant wet prairies that once spread across thousands of nearby acres.”
Through invasive species management and the reintroduction of fire to the ecosystem, the tracts added to the preserve will be restored to their natural state.
“The Cowbane Prairie Natural Area Preserve is a unique prairie and meadow habitat within the Commonwealth, and its expansion and restoration will benefit many of the same wildlife species impacted by mercury contamination,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber. “This restoration project sets the stage for many efforts that will be supported by the DuPont natural resources damage settlement.”
The settlement with DuPont came about to resolve claims stemming from the release of mercury into the South River in the 1930s and 1940s. This is the largest natural-resource damage settlement in Virginia’s history and the eighth largest in U.S. history. It provides more than $42 million for natural-resource restoration and improvement.