Natural resources summit report | Parks group thanks Del. Dillard | News from DCR Director Maroon | State lands online database launched | Waterfowl hunting at natural area preserve | Watershed profile: The York | Youth Conservation Corps | Banner year for finding rare species | Parks programs connect with visitors
Note: This article is a follow-up to Secretary of Natural Resources Tayloe Murphy's article "Partnership Agenda: Moving Virginia's Environment Forward" from the previous Grassroots issue. The partnership agenda resulted from the governor's Natural Resources Summit; several tasks outlined within the agenda are complete.
Natural resources funding commission
After Gov. Warner acknowledged last April that the state has historically under-funded natural resource protection efforts, a 22-member commission was set up to draft strategies for permanent funding to support programs, specifically those that address water quality and land conservation.
An initial recommendation would restore $22 million to the natural resources secretariat. That funding "should be targeted towards… priorities, not necessarily directed solely to the replacement of lost agency positions and programs." Beyond restoring that money and recommending no further general fund budget cuts for FY 2005, the commission proposed increases in both general and non-general funding beginning in FY 2006. The report recommended the governor propose an additional $27 million for this secretariat in order that its total funding represents a full one percent of the state's budget. The commission notes even that percentage would lag behind the U.S. average of 1.47 percent. The current natural resources budget is about .6 percent of the state budget.
Recognizing that general funds would be insufficient to address natural resource needs and commitments in the near term, the group offered non-general funding recommendations. The first entails submitting legislation for the 2004 General Assembly session establishing a Virginia Natural and Historic Resources Fund.
If adopted, initial funding recommendations included monies from a $2 per month water utility fee and a $10 document recording fee. This revenue would be divided evenly between the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund and the Virginia Land Conservation Fund.
These actions would generate almost $66 million in non-general funds annually and would leverage another $85 million in federal, local and private match - a 129 percent match to the state revenue. In the report's cover letter, Secretary Murphy said through the commission's strategies, "the Commonwealth can elevate itself from its unenviable ranking of 50th in state spending on natural resources among all the states."
Find the complete report on the Secretary of Natural Resources website at www.naturalresources.virginia.gov.
NOTE: Legislation to begin to address the funding commission's recommendations was introduced, with support from Gov. Warner, in the 2004 assembly session. Dels. Harvey Morgan and Kenneth Plum introduced HB 693 and Sen. Creigh Deeds introduced SB 569. The bills would create the Virginia Natural and Historic Resources Fund, which would include monies generated by a $10 recording fee assessed on various deeds and certificates of satisfaction. Fund dollars would be allocated to water quality improvement and land conservation by the Secretary of Natural Resources according to guidelines established in the bills to help address Virginia's constitutional environmental obligations.
State stormwater program report
A high-priority issue that emerged at the April summit was improving and consolidating state stormwater programs. Participants deemed it necessary to reorganize current operations to improve efficiency and eliminate confusion and overlap.
The responsibility of recommendations for improved water quality protection and an evaluation of the need for stormwater programs statewide fell to Secretary Murphy, who then assembled a task force, chaired by DCR Director Joe Maroon. The group included leadership and staff from DCR, the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department, the Department of Environmental Quality and a representative from the secretary's office.
Virginia's stormwater programs, which are currently handled in three agencies, cover construction or land-disturbing activities and programs regulating local government storm sewer systems as well as those of state and federal entities. Elements of the separate programs are implemented by local governments, and related responsibilities are spread among four state citizen boards.
While each of the three agencies has a legitimate reason for managing stormwater, the multi-agency approach has resulted in inconsistent program requirements and permitting, and duplicative reporting. Unsurprisingly, these various programs are often confusing to many who implement them and to individuals and localities required to comply with them.
Implementation of the task force report would streamline state programs, simplify local government and develop requirements. It would also help address tributary strategy commitments for Chesapeake 2000 and support TMDL reductions in streams impaired by sediment and related pollutants.
The task force itself met six times and conducted five stakeholder group meetings with representatives from localities, the building and development community, soil and water conservation districts and environmental organizations. The task force also solicited written comments regarding what consolidation and improved stormwater management might entail.
For more information about stormwater runoff, a leading source of pollution in Virginia's waters, click here.
NOTE: Legislation to implement the task force recommendations was introduced, with support from Gov. Warner, in the 2004 General Assembly session. The chief patron of House Bill 1177 is Del. Preston Bryant of Lynchburg. The bill has several co-sponsors. If passed, DCR would assume responsibility for state stormwater programs as early as January 2005. The initial deadline for local programs will be July 2006. For more specific information, contact DCR Legislative Analyst David Dowling at email@example.com.
The Virginia Association for Parks presented Del. Jim Dillard its first Legislator of the Year Award at its annual conference in Fredericksburg in November, recognizing the legislator's years of ardent support for Virginia's state parks.
Among other accomplishments, he was instrumental in getting the 2002 State Park General Obligation Bond Referendum legislation approved by the General Assembly so that it would be on last November's ballot. This spring he introduced and successfully managed an amendment to restore almost $1.5 million to DCR's state parks budget.
"We appreciate what [Delegate Dillard] has done and want to make others more aware of [his] efforts on behalf of the state park system," said VAFP President Johnny Finch.
As this issue of Grassroots went to print, only one Virginia state park remains closed (of five that were severely damaged) since Hurricane Isabel struck Sept. 18, 2003. Although 22 of 34 state parks and 10 of 38 natural area preserves sustained damage, we made considerable progress in the weeks immediately following the storm, and were quickly open for visitors across the Commonwealth. While the physical cleanup seemed unending - at Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield County, 100,000 cubic yards of debris was removed - we were aggressive in repairing, rebuilding and reopening operations for visitors. In many cases, staff members had to cut their way into or out of their parks. Employees in areas where less damage occurred drove to help colleagues in parks that were harder hit. I am very impressed with the extraordinary attitudes and energy DCR staff has to do whatever it takes to reopen and welcome visitors back to the parks.
In a letter sent to parks managers and staff, Governor Warner recognized their efforts and commended their dedication. He mentioned the planning and preparation undertaken so that "potential park guests were steered clear of harm's way," and sympathized with those who call the parks home as well as workplace. DCR is perhaps the only state agency facing a double hit because of the hurricane, sustaining both repair costs and lost revenue from park closings.
Just after the hurricane hit, senior managers representing the department's programs crowded my office in Richmond to finalize contracts for a cleanup service to help state parks staff clear trees and debris from buildings, roads, campsites, etc. A great team effort got contractors to several parks the very next day. In addition to state parks workers, DCR's floodplain management staff members have been "on loan" to the state emergency response operations to assist communities with recovery efforts.
Speaking of the department's floodplain management program, it has been joined with our dam safety program responsibilities to create the new Dam Safety and Floodplain Management Division. Its director is Bill Browning, a 38-year public servant and veteran of DCR's soil and water conservation programs. Bill brings excellent hands-on expertise and proven managerial ability to the position. He recently supervised the floodplain management staff and the dam specialist working with Virginia's soil and water conservation district-owned dams.
While DCR's staff certainly deserves admiration for work related to Isabel, other work also is noteworthy. In particular, DCR's planning and recreation resources staff and others who contributed to the 2002 Virginia Outdoors Plan deserve extra praise. The National Park Service called the document one of the two best such plans in the nation (the other is a Texas product).
These are just a few of the many notable activities going on at DCR. We trust that this issue of Grassroots will give you additional insight into the department's and the Commonwealth's conservation initiatives.
Virginia has a new, interactive geographic information system (GIS) database - the first comprehensive public lands map resource ever - the result of efforts by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). This computerized tool is available here.
A GIS combines layers of information about a specific location to give a better understanding of that place. The user decides which layers to combine, depending on the purpose - for example, situating a housing development to minimize environmental impact, tracking storms like the recent Hurricane Isabel and perhaps even targeting terrorism.
Information in the new database took more than three years to collect and format. The Conservation Lands GIS database includes boundaries for lands owned by federal, state, regional, interstate and local governments. Also included are land preserves owned by non-profit groups and conservation easements held by various organizations and land trusts around the state.
Making maps using a GIS is much faster, easier and more flexible than doing so by traditional means. A GIS creates maps from database information, which can include existing paper maps that have been digitized. Anyone with Internet access can use the website to search, display, create and print custom maps.
"State resource agencies, universities, land trusts, and regional and local government will find this tool invaluable for environmental, recreation and conservation planning," said Joseph H. Maroon, DCR director. "Localities, agencies and planning district commissions with a keen interest in economic development and resource protection also should find the database very useful."
Government agencies and conservation organizations with socialized software can download data from the website for use in their systems. Information is clearly presented in map form with an accompanying report, allowing decision-makers to focus on real issues rather than trying to interpret data. Because GIS products can be produced quickly, numerous scenarios can be efficiently and effectively evaluated.
Links to detailed information about specific parks or other conservation lands will help citizens use this tool to explore places where they might vacation or learn more about open spaces in their communities.
For more information, contact Steve Carter-Lovejoy at (804) 786-8377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the first time, DCR offered waterfowl hunting at one of its natural areas - Dameron Marsh Natural Area Preserve in Northumberland County. The department's Natural Heritage staff erected 12 waterfowl hunting blinds in October along the preserve's shoreline. William Carden, president and CEO of Potomac Supply Co. of Kinsale, Va., donated the treated lumber used to build the blinds. "Mr. Carden's generosity assisted our department greatly for this project," said DCR Director Joseph H. Maroon.
This effort balanced visitor management and resulted in good experiences for a variety of outdoor enthusiasts. Hunters hunted ducks and geese each Wednesday morning over the nine-week waterfowl season, which ran from mid-November to late January. On the other weekdays, bird watchers and others continued to enjoy the marsh's abundant waterfowl and wildlife.
Encompassing 17 counties and draining 1.7 million acres, this watershed is 200 miles long. It has a population of more than 250,000, and its main tributaries are the Mattaponi, Pamunkey, South Anna and North Anna rivers. Land use in the York River watershed is 70 percent forestal, 20 percent agricultural and 10 percent urban.
Who to know:
In 1996 seven soil and water conservation districts formed the York River Watershed Council to stimulate public discussion about watershed issues and to promote watershed-wide planning and management of resources in the basin. Although state budget cuts reduced funding for the council, its representatives continue to play an important role in watershed management.
In 2002 the York Council held a forum to solicit comments on water quality criteria developed by the Chesapeake Bay Program, upon which revised Chesapeake Bay tributary strategies are based. Participants gained an understanding of those criteria and their implications for future water resource management.
Lyn Layer, chair
Tidewater Soil and Water
Matt Criblez, regional manager
DCR York-Rappahannock Watershed Office
In upper reaches of the York River watershed, the Lake Anna Civic Association (LACA) has been working with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to collect data on chemical and physical water quality parameters at several locations in the Lake Anna watershed. Data collection results are being used to write a Lake Anna Watershed Management Plan.
The association also formed the Lake Anna Watershed Roundtable. The roundtable is sponsoring public meetings so that the watershed community can review the state of the Lake Anna watershed and comment on environmental protection and land use actions recommended in the plan. Additionally, with funding from DCR and the Chesapeake Bay Program, Lake Anna residents in Orange, Louisa and Spotsylvania counties were sent surveys in December. Recipients were asked about their property, land-use characteristics, control of watershed development, the environment, transportation and watershed management.
The survey gauges residents' opinions on thorny issues, such as the proper pace of development, and asks for suggestions on how to reduce threats to water quality. Survey responses will be anonymous. The Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Council staff will collect and tabulate responses, after which the roundtable's steering committee will analyze survey data and write a report. It will be posted on the civic association's website, www.lakeannavirginia.org.
In the middle portion of the York River watershed, the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers Association (MPRA) promotes river cleanups and teaches landowners about effects of pollution on the two rivers. The campaign includes the development of a York River Water Trail, complete with kiosks that include exhibits about various aspects of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers.
Randolph-Macon College, the Hanover-Caroline Soil and Water Conservation District and DCR's York-Rappahannock Watershed Office are promoting a watershed management plan for Mechumps Creek, which empties into the Pamunkey River. Meetings with landowners and other stakeholders are being held to collect information about watershed issues. Randolph-Macon students will use the information to develop a draft watershed plan.
The Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission is coordinating development of a watershed management plan for Dragon Run. Watershed interests met to help formulate the plan and address local government, traditional uses, habitat management, access and education concerns.
In the lower part of the watershed, the Gloucester County Office of Environmental Programs recently sponsored cleanups for the Perrin River, Sarah Creek and Severn River. The environmental group Save the 'Ole Piankatank (S.T.O.P.) sponsored its annual cleanup on the Piankatank River; participants removed discarded automobile tires, crab pots, and other plastic, glass and metal trash. More cleanups are planned.
Newsletters issued by DCR's York-Rappahannock office inform stakeholders in the York watershed and lower coastal basin about watershed management planning, the tributary strategy revision process and river cleanups. The office also held seminars to help York River stakeholders write watershed management plans, and the staff conducted a workshop on writing successful grant applications.
DCR is working with council members and other watershed partners to develop watershed management plans and to revise the York River and Lower Coastal Basins Tributary Strategy. After a summer meeting to get the tributary strategy process underway, the tributary team has met regularly, working toward the April 2004 strategy completion deadline. For information about activities in the watershed, visit www.yorkwatershed.org.
The Virginia State Parks Youth Conservation Corps is a unique summer program sponsored by DCR for 14 to 17-year-olds. It focuses on community service, environmental stewardship and recreational opportunities - all in a setting that contributes to character development. For many corps participants, it's a first "job." Job skills, such as working with others and for a supervisor, commitment, group dynamics and completing a project, are gained by crewmembers. Youth Conservation Corps participants are from diverse backgrounds and, to further their experiences, are usually assigned to areas of the state away from their homes.
In three 3-week sessions, 113 kids formed crews at eight parks. They were led by adults who served as mentors, role models, technical trainers and supervisors. Each crewmember was paid $500, and supervisors earned $1,500.
In most instances, park staffs were challenged to keep up with these workers' pace. At Twin Lakes State Park, crews worked on all park trails. Thanks to the corps, New River Trail State Park now has additional primitive canoe-in campsites. At Chippokes Plantation State Park, crew
hours were used as match for a grant. The youths cleared and readied a historic roadway adjacent to the park so that archaeological exploration can begin. At Mason Neck State Park, a major section of the new Dogue Trail is complete, a project started by another volunteer group. The five Mason Neck crews also worked at Leesylvania State Park, replacing a boardwalk.
Nancy Heltman, DCR's Virginia State Parks operations director, and Gaston Rouse, visitor services specialist at Mason Neck State Park, run the program, now in its fourth year. After eliciting feedback from the kids, Heltman and Rouse will make subtle changes to improve next year's program. Next summer, the two plan more diverse recruitment, both culturally and geographically, by working with additional youth service agencies.
"Our program is one of very few of its kind for younger people," said Nancy Heltman, operations director for Virginia State Parks. "Most similar programs focus on an older age group - 18 to 24-year-olds."
For information about next summer's Youth Conservation Corps, call Gaston Rouse at (703) 339-7024. To download crew and supervisor application forms, click here.
Over the past year, scientists from DCR's Natural Heritage Program discovered a variety of species or new locations of species.
While exploring Clinch Valley Wildlife Management Area on slopes along the Holston River, DCR biologists found a millipede known to exist in only one other place in the world. Dr. Richard Hoffman, international millipede expert from the Virginia Museum of Natural History, identified the species as Brachoria turneri Keeton.
In the Bother Knob area of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, staff discovered three rare species not previously found at the site. One, a cave amphipod (genus Stygobromus), is considered new to science by the leading taxonomic expert on this group of crustaceans, Dr. John Holsinger of Old Dominion University. "New to science" is a significant claim made only after scientists with special knowledge in a field confirm that no one has ever seen or collected the species. This is the fourth new species of Stygobromus discovered in Virginia by DCR's Natural Heritage zoologists during the past eight years.
"Such discoveries by Natural Heritage scientists are so important in helping us better understand the world we live in. They represent a critical first step in helping ensure that our children and grandchildren have the opportunity to be stewards over a healthy planet," said Tom Smith, Natural Heritage director.
Earlier in the year, during a field investigation of calcareous glades near Blacksburg, DCR botanists uncovered the second Virginia location for juniper sedge (Carex juniperorum). Within the same Blacksburg glades, the third known Virginia occurrence of the small white ladies' slipper orchid (Cypripedium candidum) was documented. These plants also are rare globally.
Staff recently located populations of five other rare plant species:
For more information on Virginia's rare animals, plants and natural communities, click here.
Visitors to Virginia State Parks enjoy more than beauty and outstanding recreational pursuits. Special programs at parks - be it panning for gold or seeing the operations of a historic shot tower - help guests learn more about natural, historic and cultural surroundings.
Between 1995 and 2002, annual attendance at Virginia State Park interpretive programs jumped from 52,000 to 190,000. In 2003, attendance fell for the first time in eight years in large part because of exceptionally rainy weather. Parks reported rain 17 days in June, 20 days in July and 22 days in August.
While overall attendance dropped about 11 percent, the number of programs grew 36 percent, from 6,837 to 9,333. And, despite lower overall attendance, 40 percent of the parks recorded their best or second best year ever. Natural Tunnel, Pocahontas, Wilderness Road and Claytor Lake state parks had the greatest increases in interpretive attendance in 2003.
Wilderness Road, arguably Virginia's most remote state park, had more people attend interpretive programs in 2003 than has any park in the 67-year history of the system. The park has the most authentically recreated frontier fort in America and recently broke ground for a new visitor center. The park is certain to be in the interpretive spotlight for years to come.
Standards of Learning (SOL)-based environmental education programs were presented to about 28,000 Virginia students through outreach and on-site efforts.