Governor Ralph Northam today announced a new land conservation strategy that will focus resources on preserving lands with the highest conservation value for the Commonwealth. Working with state agencies and partners, the administration will first prioritize permanent protection of the top two percent of lands with the highest conservation value, with the goal of achieving protection of the entire top ten percent within the next ten years.
“I believe that we need a land conservation strategy that is focused and targeted toward making measurable progress on our natural resource goals, from restoration of the Chesapeake Bay to providing resilience against sea level rise and other impacts of climate change,” said Governor Northam. “Through this data-driven process, we will prioritize the top ten percent of targeted lands and direct limited resources toward those conservation projects that provide the greatest benefit in the most cost-effective manner.”
This new strategy will rely upon innovative tools that the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) developed to identify the conservation value of lands across the Commonwealth based on a number of metrics. This scientific analysis will provide a roadmap on where the Commonwealth should focus its land conservation efforts, as well as which lands would produce multiple benefits if conserved.
“This strategic approach to identifying and protecting lands with the highest conservation value, including lands with multiple conservation benefits, is the best way to show we are using our limited resources wisely,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler. “I look forward to working with the General Assembly, members of the conservation, agriculture, and forestry communities, and other stakeholders to refine and enhance our land conservation tools to be as cost-effective as possible.”
“We have been collaborating with federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, universities, and others to refine the science needed to inform our decisions. These tools, along with stronger partnerships, will allow us to be more focused and intentional with our conservation efforts and better leverage our limited resources. It will result in a greater impact on the land and in the communities we serve,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring.
Pursuing the top ten percent of conservation lands in a targeted manner will produce a number of significant benefits, including protecting watersheds and local water quality, securing and recovering wildlife populations and habitats, making sure agriculture and forestry are viable and sustainable, steering development away from vulnerable and disaster-prone areas, providing access to the outdoors, and preserving sites that represent the history of all Virginians.
“As a science-based organization, the Nature Conservancy is encouraged to see the Northam Administration using the best available data in the selection of land conservation priorities,” said Locke Ogens, The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia State Director. “The Commonwealth’s lands and waters are among its most precious assets, and this is a smart approach to making needed investments in their protection.”
Protecting lands with conservation value is the mission of the land trust community in the Commonwealth,” said Ellen Shepard, Virginia’s United Land Trusts (VaULT). “We look forward to working with Governor Northam to meet the Commonwealth’s conservation goals.”