The Potomac River at Fraser Preserve, Fairfax County, VA.
Sunrise on the River The Potomac River at Fraser Preserve, Fairfax County, VA. © Thomas Hamilton

Stories in Virginia

Make Your Voice Heard

Support increased state funding for Virginia's natural resources.

Virginians take great pride in our natural heritage, and rightfully so. Our lands and waters enhance our quality of life and fuel the state’s economy. Conserving our lands and waters is not only the mission of The Nature Conservancy, but also a core function of state government. 

The Nature Conservancy will transfer Old Castlewood landing on the Clinch River to Virginia State Parks.
Clinch River The Nature Conservancy will transfer Old Castlewood landing on the Clinch River to Virginia State Parks. © Daniel White / TNC

This summer VIRGINIAforever, a coalition of businesses, environmental organizations, and outdoor enthusiasts of which TNC is a member, released a plan outlining funding needs for Virginia to adequately protect our lands and waters over the next five years.

The timing of this report could not be better, as Governor Northam pledged in 2018 to increase spending on natural resources to 2% of the overall budget and is currently drafting his proposed budget for the next biennium (2021-2022). Now is the time to reach out and remind him of his pledge and provide recommendations on where increased funding should go. 

Increased funding for Virginia’s natural resources will achieve:

  • Land Conservation through grants awarded to help fund the purchase of permanent conservation easements, open spaces and parklands, lands of historic or cultural significance, farmlands and forests, and natural areas.
  • Enlarged and expanded access to existing state parks and natural areas through bonds to purchase adjacent land and construct basic infrastructure such as roads, parking, trails, and facilities for disabled access as well as bathrooms, campgrounds, and boat launches and other services.
  • Enhanced water quality by providing the resources needed to achieve Virginia’s Water Quality Improvement Plan and meet the 2025 Chesapeake Bay restoration goals.
  • Ongoing state conservation work by increasing the staffing capacity of Virginia’s conservation agencies to meet the Virginia’s growing natural resource needs.
  • Oyster Restoration fully restoring native oyster habitat in five of Virginia’s bay tributaries by 2025.
  • Economic Development and protection of natural and cultural assets in southwestern Virginia through Virginia’s newest state park, Clinch River State Park.

The Governor’s Proposed Budget will be announced in December. The time to make your voice heard is now.

Appalachian farm pasture.
Summer meadow Appalachian farm pasture. © Kent Mason

WHAT'S AT STAKE

Funding for Land Conservation

Land conservation plays an important role in protecting our natural heritage, improving water quality and sustaining our working farms and forests. It is also a critical component to our economy, capitalizing on the parts of the economy that cannot be outsourced, such as our scenic and recreational assets. 

As our population continues to grow, we must continue to grow the number of opportunities Virginians and visitors alike have to enjoy these assets. 

A bull elk in velvet, Breaks, Virginia.
Protecting Biodiversity A bull elk in velvet, Breaks, Virginia. © Steven David Johnson
VIRGINIA LAND CONSERVATION FOUNDATION

In 1999, the General Assembly and the governor established the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation to help fund protection of these resources. Grants are awarded to help fund the purchase of permanent conservation easements, open spaces and parklands, lands of historic or cultural significance, farmlands and forests, and natural areas.

State agencies, local governments, public bodies and registered (tax-exempt) nonprofit groups are eligible to receive matching grants from the foundation for state-funded grant rounds.

Since 2000, grant applications have been submitted for almost $123 million—more than double the available amount of $50.9 million. And while legislation passed in 2013 requiring the budget include $20 million for the Foundation, it has never received full funding. These unfunded projects represent a lost opportunity for the commonwealth to capture an estimated $60 million in federal, local, and private matching dollars for land conservation.

Fully funding the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation will allow for the funding of highest priority projects, particularly those that provide public access for Virginia’s citizens and visitors.

Bringing beauty, biodiversity, and economic value to southwest Virginia.
Clinch River Increasing opportunities to enjoy our natural resources. © TNC
EXPANDING PUBLIC ACCESS

Public lands can only be enjoyed by citizens and visitors if they contain basic infrastructure such as roads, parking, trails, and facilities for disabled access. Virginia has eight existing state parks in need of such infrastructure.

Increased funding could allow for the construction of bathrooms, campgrounds, boat launches, picnic areas, cabins, fishing piers, and outdoor educational facilities as well as the construction of water access points throughout Virginia for anglers, paddlers, and boaters.

Funding for land acquisitions would allow for the expansion of existing parks and our natural area preserve system, which protect some of the rarest natural communities and rare species habitats in Virginia, offering increased opportunities for Virginians to enjoy our public lands.

Granite rock is methodically placed in Virginia's Piankatank River to form the newest, 25-acre oyster reef in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Building a Reef Granite rock is methodically placed in Virginia's Piankatank River to form the newest, 25-acre oyster reef in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. © Patrick Bloodgood/U.S. Army photo

Oyster Restoration

Oysters are an iconic species in the Chesapeake Bay. They filter sediment and algae and remove nitrogen from the water, while providing important nurseries and feeding grounds for other marine life.  For generations, oysters have also played an important role in Virginia’s economy.

Oyster restoration involves the construction of new reefs.  In addition to providing habitat for oysters, fish and crabs, reefs also offer a nature-based solution for adapting to climate change.  Reefs can take the punch out of storm waves and help slow the rate of erosion along marsh edges. Last year the Lafayette River was declared Virginia’s first fully restored river under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

Increased funding will allow us to make the Piankatank River the second restored river and allow the state to continue to progress on its goal of five restored Chesapeake Bay tributaries by 2025.

A great blue heron hunts for fish on the Chesapeake Bay.
Great Blue Heron A great blue heron hunts for fish on the Chesapeake Bay. © Matt Kane / The Nature Conservancy

Water Quality

The Commonwealth’s streams, rivers, aquifers, wetlands, and the Chesapeake Bay have supported Virginian’s way of life for centuries, but over time, these waters have become impaired. This summer Virginia released an ambitious and comprehensive plan to meet our restoration goals for the Chesapeake Bay by 2025.

FollowingVIRGINIAforever’s recommendations will provide the resources needed to implement this plan and achieve the state’s restoration goals.

Make Your Voice Heard

Surveys conducted by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation consistently reveal that Virginians maintain a strong commitment to natural areas and express a willingness to pay for conservation.

For too long, the state has underfunded natural resources programs.  According to the Census Bureau, Virginia’s natural resource investments significantly trail other southeastern and mid-Atlantic states. On average, states spend about double, as a percent of state budget, what Virginia does on natural resources.

Virginia can do better

Please reach out to the Governor today and let him know that funding for conservation is important to you!  Whether you call or email, tell the Governor you share his goal of making Virginia a better steward of the natural resources we are leaving for future generations.  

TAKE ACTION 

                    Governor Ralph Northam
                    P.O. Box 1475
                    Richmond, VA 23218

 

SAMPLE SCRIPT:

Hi my name is ______. I am calling in support of increasing state funding for natural resources in Virginia to 2% of the budget, as Governor Northam pledged to do.

______ is just one area that’s important to me and I urge Governor Northam to include robust funding for it in his proposed budget.