Our Virginia: 2020 Impact Report
Conservation successes from across the commonwealth.
From the Director: An Unwavering Commitment
It’s often said that a crisis doesn’t build character; it reveals it. This past year has presented nearly overwhelming challenges. In conservation, as in every other aspect of our lives, we’ve encountered frustrations and setbacks. Yet I am greatly heartened by the positivity and persistence with which our whole Virginia team has adapted to new ways of working.
Moreover, I am deeply gratified by the unwavering passion and commitment to conservation of supporters like you. Even in these anxious and uncertain times, you have risen to the occasion, helped keep our priorities on track and propelled us toward some big conservation victories that would be remarkable in any year.
I hope you will be as inspired as I am by the success stories in this issue, as well as by the years and, often, decades of sustained effort and leadership required to achieve these results. One thing this year has made clear is the enormous value of investing in resilient natural systems, as so many people have found solace and comfort in nature.
“Protection is nature’s vaccine, and one that we need to deploy around the world for the benefit of all species, including our own,” Jeffrey Parrish, a TNC global managing director, wrote this summer. I sincerely thank you for joining us in our endeavor to create a healthier future for nature and people. Working together, with purpose and determination, we can make all the difference in the world.
2020 Impact Report: What's Inside
Over the last 25 years the Virginia Aquatic Resources Trust Fund (VARTF) has proven the wisdom of investing in wetlands and streams and in restoring the natural services they provide to everyone.
Spotlight: Conservation in the Time of Covid
As we all face a global crisis unlike any in recent memory, our primary concern remains the health of our loved ones, colleagues and communities. But recent experience has also underscored our urgent need to keep working toward a sustainable future.
To that end, The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia team has grappled with anxieties and, ultimately, demonstrated our resolve. We’ve adapted to new ways of working, while finding new inspiration and hope from our communities and our shared sense of purpose in protecting the natural systems on which life depends.
HIGHLIGHTS IN THE HIGHLANDS
On a clear, sunny June morning, Blair Smyth and a small group of TNC colleagues form a circle outside the compact Blue Grass, Virginia, post office. It’s the first foray back in the field for the group after three months of interacting through computer screens, and the excitement at the rendezvous is palpable, despite face coverings and the minimum six feet of distance between each person. “We’ve got a cave to find,” Smyth says, dispersing the group to its ultimate destination.
Smyth, who heads TNC’s Allegheny Highlands team, leads the way out of the valley and onto a rough track hugging the edge of a forested slope. Below, Straight Fork is anything but straight as its braided course meanders for two miles through valley meadows and countless beaver ponds. Smyth finally eases to a stop and, following directions from locals, points the way up a steep, muddy mountainside. The goal is to follow a side stream to where it reportedly gushes forth from the mouth of a cave.
After forging upwards roughly the length of two football fields, the group finds the cave, taking turns scrambling up from the stream to explore a dark rift in the rocky mountain.
Completing the cave quest is a cherry on top of a productive day exploring and documenting a recent conservation easement encompassing over 1,800 acres. “The most impressive thing about this project is just the sheer diversity of the habitat we’re conserving up here,” says Smyth. “I mean, you’ve got everything from this cave system to trout streams to beaver meadows to spruce-fir forest to a grove of massive old sugar maples.”
Moreover, the property’s strategic location stands to make an even bigger conservation impact, preserving vital habitat corridors that connect Virginia’s George Washington and Jefferson National Forests with West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest.
This project was made possible through the vision and generosity of landowner Fitz Gary, who donated a permanent conservation easement on the entire property in December 2019. In 2020, Gary donated 1,824 acres outright to TNC for preservation.
Having recently returned to Virginia after living for years in northern California, Gary compares his first impression of the land he’s owned since 1972 and adjacent Blue Grass Valley as “almost as overwhelming as driving into Yosemite.”
Conservation in the Time of Covid
Victory at Sea
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has adopted a new management approach for the Atlantic menhaden—the most important fish in the sea. Rather than setting catch limits based simply on menhaden numbers, the commission will use ecological reference points that take into account the needs of myriad ocean species that depend on menhaden. “This decision may be held up as a new model, a new way to ensure that our ecosystem is vibrant and brimming with life.” Learn More
Piney Grove Preserve Expands
TNC’s recent acquisitions of Harrell's Mill Pond and nearby lands expand our Piney Grove Preserve to almost 4,000 acres and the overall protected area to well over 10,000 acres. We will restore pine savanna habitat across the property to boost populations of native wildlife, including bobwhite quail and the imperiled red-cockaded woodpecker. Grants from the Cabell Foundation and WestRock and donations from a long list of TNC supporters made these acquisitions possible. Learn More
Clinch Valley Farm Grant Awarded
Having successfully deployed a $4.2 million grant from NRCS to help local farmers reduce pollution in the Clinch and Powell rivers, TNC’S Clinch Valley program was recently awarded an additional $2 million to extend the program. Project leader Ronald Lambert’s long-standing working relationships with the agricultural community, combined with Angela Watland’s scientific modeling, enable us to target farms that have the greatest potential to improve water quality. Learn More
Historic Legislation Passes
In August, the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law. This historic legislation provides $1.9 billion annually over the next five years to address deferred maintenance backlogs on public lands and permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million per year. For many years, TNC has persistently advocated for this national commitment to conservation, and we thank our many partners and supporters who made this remarkable achievement possible. Learn More