Here’s a round-up of briefs from around Southwest and Southside. Send yours for possible inclusion to

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Fish and Wildlife Service designates streams as critical habitat

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designating more than 440 stream miles in Appalachia as critical habitat that are essential for the survival of the Big Sandy and Guyandotte River crayfishes — including some in Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties.

The designation follows the service listing the two species as endangered in 2016.

The Big Sandy crayfish persists in less than 40 percent of the streams in which it once likely lived, the service says. It designed 362 miles of stream as critical habitat — in Martin and Pike counties, Kentucky; Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties, Virginia; and McDowell, Mingo and Wayne counties, West Virginia.  

The Guyandotte River crayfish was once found in six stream systems across the Upper Guyandotte River Basin in West Virginia. At the time of listing, it was determined that the species persisted along 42 miles of two streams in Wyoming County, West Virginia. These 42 miles in Wyoming County are not sufficient for conservation of the species, the service said. Therefore, it has designated another 42 stream miles (totaling 84 miles) extending to both Wyoming and Logan counties.  

The streams designated as critical habitat are considered state waters, and adjacent land is owned by a combination of federal, state, and private landowners. The designation will not affect adjacent landowner activities unless those activities involve federal funding or federal permits and impact designated streams, the service says. Critical habitat designation does not establish a wildlife refuge, allow the government or public to access private lands, or require non-federal landowners to restore habitat or recover species.  

The final critical habitat rule will publish in the Federal Register on Tuesday, March 15. The rule, comments, and materials the Service received, as well as supporting documentation used in preparing the rule, are available for public inspection at: Search for Docket No. FWS-R5-ES-2019-0098.  

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The grand opening of SoVa Gardens was celebrated earlier this year. On hand for the ribbon cutting were, from left, Brian Skidmore, Pennington Gap assistant town manager; Greg Edwards, Lee County Economic Development Authority; Orville Overton, SoVa Gardens co-owner; Richard Johnson, Lee County EDA director. Not pictured is SoVa Gardens co-owner Brandon Moore. The business was a recent recipient of a VCEDA seed capital grant. Courtesy of VCEDA.

VCEDA awards grant to Pennington Gap farm and garden supply store

Appa Valley LLC, doing business as SoVa Gardens in Pennington Gap, is a recent recipient of a $10,000 Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) seed capital matching grant.

“Agriculture was identified as a target industry by VCEDA several years ago and SoVa Gardens fit the bill with its business plan to support that industry through its offering of products to serve area farmers and hobby gardeners,” said VCEDA Executive Director/General Counsel Jonathan Belcher. “The business projects three full-time jobs and one part-time job within three years.”

The business is co-owned by Orville Overton and Brandon Moore.

In the future, Overton noted, SoVa has a new project planned which utilizes vertical growing and assisted lighting to grow vegetables in an environmentally controlled space. Vegetables and fruits grown in that environment will be sold at the store.

Overton and Moore worked with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Mountain Empire Community College (MECC) in developing their application to VCEDA and received a letter of support from the Lee County Economic Development Authority.

About the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority Seed Capital Matching Grant Fund: VCEDA region for-profit businesses one year and under with less than 10 full-time employees are eligible to apply for dollar-for-dollar matching grants up to $10,000 from the VCEDA Seed Capital Matching Fund. Applicants work with the Small Business Development Centers at Mountain Empire and Southwest Virginia community colleges to prepare the applications to VCEDA that include detailed business and financial plans. Businesses must be located in or plan to operate in the VCEDA region in southwestern Virginia that includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise counties and the City of Norton.ent Authority.

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Opal Lee, the ‘grandmother of Juneteenth,’ to speak at Virginia Tech 

Opal Lee. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

“A Conversation with Ms. Opal Lee: the Grandmother of Juneteenth” will be held at 3 p.m. March 27 at Burruss Hall at Virginia Tech and also will be livestreamed. This event is free and open to the public and will be part of Tech’s 1872 Forward celebration weekend.

Lee, often referred to as the “grandmother of Juneteenth,” is a retired teacher, counselor, and social justice activist in the movement to make Juneteenth a federally recognized holiday. On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed Senate bill 475, making Juneteenth the 11th federal holiday. Author of Juneteenth: A Children’s Story, Lee has been nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact VT Engage at 540-231-6964 or during regular business hours at least five business days prior to the event.

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Kelsey to speak at Communicating Science week at Tech

Elin Kelsey will deliver the keynote address of Communicating Science week at Virginia Tech on March 18.

Erin Kelsey. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

Her address, to be delivered at 8 p.m. at the Moss Arts Center, is titled “Hope Matters: Why Overcoming Doom and Gloom is Essential to Achieving Climate Justice.”

Part of Communicating Science Week at Virginia Tech, the talk will offer examples of what Kelsey calls “evidence-based hope”: stories of ecosystem resilience, ocean conservation successes, species recovery, and communities coming together to effect positive change.

She is the author of “Hope Matters: Why Changing the Way We Think Is Critical to Solving the Environmental Crisis” and “Watching Giants: The Secret Lives of Whales” as well as several children’s picture books, including “You Are Stardust” and “A Last Goodbye.”

On March 18, she and illustrator Soyeon Kim will discuss their collaboration on picture books and a short film as part of the “Friday Friends” series from the Creativity and Innovation District Living-Learning Community. On March 19, she will lead a workshop titled “From Climate Grief to Evidence-Based Hope: Tools for Self Care and Meaningful Action” for graduate students participating in this year’s ComSciCon.

She will also serve on the judges’ panel for the Nutshell Games, the Center for Communicating Science’s annual event where graduate students compete for the distinction of delivering the best 90-second summary of their research. The competition is scheduled for 4 p.m. March 19 at the Moss Arts Center. 

Kelsey’s March 18 keynote is open to the public free of charge. Please check the Moss Arts Center website to learn about current COVID-19 requirements.

The full slate of events for Communicating Science Week is available at the center’s website.