Working to keep the West special

Virginia's Special Places in Peril

On September 1, 2010, RMCO and Natural Resources Defense Council released Virginia Special Places in Peril: Jamestown, Chincoteague, and Shenandoah Threatened by Climate Disruption.

The report details how human-caused climate change threatens Jamestown, the first permanent European settlement in what became the American colonies and the United States; Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge; and Shenandoah National Park.

Together, these three special places draw six million visitors a year and provide over 4,000 jobs and $200 million to Virginia's economy.

But Jamestown Island, the site of the original 1607 settlement, is low enough to be completely inundated by rising seas and tidal waters -- even if the waters do not rise as much by the century's end as now seems most likely to scientists. Jamestown is also likely to become intolerably hot for many visitors for long stretches of the summer. This was a record-setting hot summer in Jamestown -- but in the 2080s in a higher-emissions future, the average summer could be twice as much above historic temperature levels as was this last, hottest-ever summer.

Chincoteague faces a wholesale disruption and transformation of its ecosystems, as rising seas and stronger coastal storms batter its vulnerable barrier island. Among the losses: 80 to 90% of the acreage of one of Virginia's most popular beaches, and habitats for one of the most diverse assemblages of wildlife in the mid-Atlantic.

Shenandoah faces threats from encroaching pines that could mute its spectacular fall foliage, which draws the park's greatest number of visitors; disruption of ecoystems and loss of wildlife; and more vista-obscuring air pollution.

The news release on the issuance of the report is here.

An audio copy of the teleconference with reporters at which the report was released can be listened to here.

You can download the full report in one large file, or in parts.

Full report (17 MB - large!)

Part 1: Front material, and these sections: Executive Summary, Introduction, Virginia's Economy at Risk, More Heat (5 MB)

Part 2: Higher seas (part) (4 MB)

Part 3: Higher seas (remainder), Stronger Coastal Storms, Loss of Wildlife (part) (4 MB)

Part 4: Loss of Wildlife (remainder), Disruption of Plant Communities, Other Impacts, Tackling Climate Disruption, Notes (4 MB)


Map of Jamestown Island, showing its vulnerability to a one-meter rise in the tidal James River. The red area on this map shows land less than one meter above the level of the James River, and so likely to be inundated if the tidal James River rises by more than one meter.

As reflected in U.S. government reports, scientists now believe that a global average of three to four feet of sea-level rise is most plausible by century's end. Because coastal lands in Virginia are naturally subsiding, the local rise of the Atlantic Ocean, Chesapeake Bay, and tidal waters -- including the James River -- will exceed the global average. In short, one of the most historic sites in the United States -- not just the first successful colonial settlement but also where representative democracy began on this continent -- is in grave danger of being lost to rising seas resulting from human-caused climate disruption.

Last year, 3.3 million people visited Colonial National Historical Park, which includes Jamestown and the Yorktown battlefield. That is more than visited Yellowstone National Park. "For Virginia, climate disruption is a jobs-killer," said Stephen Saunders, president of RMCO and principal author of the Virginia report. "Later this century, people won't come to the James River to see where Jamestown used to be."