Aerial view as seen during a survey flight of the Virginia Coast Reserve barrier islands.
Oyster, Virginia Aerial view as seen during a survey flight of the Virginia Coast Reserve barrier islands. © Peter Frank Edwards

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Conservation Alliance Formed for Virginia’s Eastern Shore

Recognizing the importance and uniqueness of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, local, state and federal conservation agencies and organizations recently formed the Virginia Eastern Shore Conservation Alliance (The Conservation Alliance) to conserve wildlife, lands and waters now and for future generations.

The Conservation Alliance grew out of the Southern Tip Partnership, which has protected thousands of acres of migratory bird habitat south of Cape Charles since the early 1990s. As the need for conservation has grown beyond the Southern Tip of Northampton County, the partners reorganized as The Conservation Alliance to expand conservation efforts to all of Northampton and Accomack counties.

“The Conservation Alliance is important to the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission, because it brings together a range of organizations, all of whom are striving for a shared goal—to preserve our beloved Eastern Shore and what makes it unique,” says Jessica Steelman, Coastal Planner with Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission (A-NPDC). “At the A-NPDC, we prioritize sustaining these beautiful assets, like coastlines and waters, through resiliency and ecotourism.”

The Conservation Alliance is focused on five primary objectives: land protection, habitat improvement, conservation research and monitoring, ecotourism, and outreach and education. Over the next five years, The Conservation Alliance plans to strategically identify species and habitats to protect through land acquisition and habitat management, while also determining conservation research needs and projects. Of particular concern is the ability of species and habitats, including tidal marshes, to adapt to sea level rise.

The Power of Partnership

A critical conservation partner since the early 1990’s has been Virginia’s Coastal Zone Management Program (CZM)—a network of state agencies and coastal localities headquartered at the Department of Environmental Quality.

“None of us alone can meet the conservation needs of this hemispherically important place,” states Laura McKay, Virginia CZM’s Program Manager. “But by pooling our resources and expertise through the Southern Tip Partnership and now The Conservation Alliance, we've been able to make remarkable progress in ensuring the continued health and natural beauty of this exquisite jewel on the Atlantic coast that is Virginia's Eastern Shore."

In the early 2000s, Eastern Shore landowners recognized the need to permanently conserve their farms and forests for future generations. The Virginia Eastern Shore Land Trust (VESLT), a core partner of The Conservation Alliance, was born in 2003 and has since helped private landowners conserve over 14,000 acres.

“The VESLT tailors each easement to protect the unique conservation values of the property and wishes of the landowner, allowing us to work on a local, property-by-property scale,” states Hali Plourde-Rogers, Director of the VESLT. “We are able to complete projects that may not be a fit for other organizations or agencies."

The Conservation Alliance places emphasis on working together to find the best solution for each property, landowner, and the community.

Economic Value of Eastern Shore’s Natural Resources

The Eastern Shore’s economy is very dependent upon its natural resources, from outdoor recreation to aquaculture and agriculture. A 2017 economic study funded by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program and prepared by George Mason University documented that conservation organizations, conservation visitors, and aquaculture on the Eastern Shore directly supported 1,261 jobs and $130,000,000 in local spending during 2016.

As such, The Conservation Alliance is committed to protecting the land and water resources these industries rely on.

“Natural resource management is complex, and partnerships and networking play a significant role in its success,” says Robbie Lewis, Senior Area Forester for the Department of Forestry. “The relationships created through The Conservation Alliance help us to consider all of the angles and possibilities needed to find solutions, while allowing us to draw on each other professionally for differing approaches in managing natural resources.”

“Being able to help landowners that I’ve known for a long time manage their forested tracts is an honor to me,” continues Lewis. “Assisting forest landowners in conducting the best forest management practices to maintain and derive value from the forest resources on their land draws on the rich forestry and agricultural traditions we have here on the Shore.”

The Eastern Shore’s growing ecotourism industry requires conservation training for kayak guides and tour boat operators. The Conservation Alliance will continue to support training provided by Virginia’s Coastal Zone Management Program, the A-NPDC, and The Nature Conservancy. 

Core Organizations and Partners

The Conservation Alliance’s core organizations include the Virginia Eastern Shore Land Trust, Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, Virginia Department of Conservation and RecreationVirginia Department of Wildlife ResourcesVirginia Department of Forestry, Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, and The Nature Conservancy.

Partner organizations include Accomack County, Northampton County, the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission, the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission, and academic research institutions working on the Eastern Shore.

A conservation research symposium and community open house is being planned to discuss The Conservation Alliance’s work and accomplishments with the public.

For more information on the Virginia Eastern Shore Conservation Alliance, contact The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve at 757-442-3605.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.