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Natural Heritage Guidelines for Digital Data Use

Guidelines Regarding Use of Digital Data

The mission of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation's Natural Heritage Program (DCR-NH) is to conserve Virginia's biodiversity through inventory, protection, and stewardship. DCR-NH is statutorily responsible for the creation and maintenance of a natural heritage resource database. DCR-NH recognizes that accurate scientific data are critical to sound decision-making that will impact natural heritage resources, and encourages the use of its data, in a variety of formats, for activities that further the conservation of Virginia's biodiversity.

Natural heritage locational data are sensitive because their inappropriate use, even by well-meaning parties, may result in harm to natural heritage resources we seek to protect. For this reason, DCR-NH monitors the use of natural heritage resource data it collects and maintains, in order to ensure that those uses are appropriate for the benefit of natural heritage resources.

The availability of natural heritage resource data digitally presents special concerns. The digital format vastly increases the ability to transfer data and to use the same set of data in a variety of applications. This data mobility can be positive when it multiplies the beneficial uses of the data. But it also represents a risk with regard to issues of inappropriate data use and distribution.

All use of digital data provided by DCR-NH, whether to public agencies or private parties, is governed by the DCR-NH License for Use of Digital Data, which dictates conditions for use, requires periodic update, and proscribes distribution of data to third parties. The DCR-NH License must be signed before any use of natural heritage data in digital form, whether those data were provided directly by DCR-NH or were transformed into digital form from paper reports, tables, or maps provided by DCR-NH.

The Natural Heritage Project Review Coordinator, in consultation with the Natural Heritage Director and the Natural Heritage Data Provision Committee, is responsible for determining who may receive digital data from DCR-NH. Questions and comments may be addressed to the NH Project Review Coordinator, S. Rene Hypes.

Guidelines Regarding Provision Of Natural Heritage Resources Data To Clients Who Request Data Only for Listed T & E Species

The mission of DCR's Natural Heritage Program is to conserve Virginia's biodiversity. We focus on natural heritage resources, which are defined as the habitat of rare, threatened, or endangered plant and animal species, rare or state significant natural communities or geologic sites, and similar features of scientific interest. One of our responsibilities, to which we devote regular and substantial resources, is the determination of what natural heritage resource elements are rare or significant enough to require our attention. This process, which results in our published Rare Animals and Rare Plants lists, follows well-established and well-reviewed procedures. We appreciate the importance of the legal protection afforded certain rare species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Virginia Departments of Game and Inland Fisheries and Agriculture and Consumer Services through the federal and state Endangered Species Acts, but we also recognize that political considerations in the assignment of certain species to protected status result in an imperfect and incomplete list of species receiving protection. Species that have been formally listed as Threatened or Endangered are included among our elements of concern, but our interests are broader.

Our Project Review function is an important opportunity for us to provide our various clients with information that can help to protect natural heritage resources. We are not a regulatory agency, and rely on our clients to act voluntarily to enhance natural heritage resources or to mitigate against the potential negative impacts of their activities. We have established agreements with certain regulatory agencies - the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality - to use our data as part of their regulatory processes, and we are appreciative that these agencies incorporate information about all natural heritage resources, not just listed threatened and endangered species.

For various reasons some clients who seek our data to review potential impacts to their projects only request information about listed species. We believe that our mission is best served by providing these clients with appropriate data for the full range of natural heritage resource elements, not just listed species. Clients are not under any obligation to us to review or use this information, but in some cases they may find this information useful in suggesting ways to enhance project benefits or reduce negative impacts. Therefore our responses for all project review requests will include information about potential impacts to all natural heritage resources, and clients will be charged for this information according to our fee schedule.

Guidelines Regarding Display of Natural Heritage Resources Data At Public Meetings

Points or polygons representing the exact location of natural heritage resource occurrence locations may not be displayed to the public under any circumstances.

Features of the Natural Heritage Resources Screening Coverage (boundaries of conservation sites, stream conservation units, general location areas associated with natural heritage resources, and cave/karst proxy conservation sites) may be displayed to the public only subject to the following conditions:

  • Boundaries must be shown with and in the context of other project data, and not as a separate map featuring natural heritage resource features.

  • Only Tier I attributes can be displayed, which are limited to site name, site type, biodiversity significance rank, acreage, and whether a federal or state listed species is present.

  • No information about specific natural heritage resource locations can be displayed, including names of species associated with specific conservation sites or stream conservation units.

  • Natural Heritage Resources Screening Coverage boundaries can be made available only on hard copy or pdf maps, not in GIS-readable format.

  • Any maps showing NHR Screening Coverage boundaries must credit DCR and include the date of the most recent data update.

  • A copy of any map products displayed for or distributed to the public should be sent to DCR-NH's Project Review Coordinator; any maps or posters too large to copy for DCR-NH should be sent as an image file or described in detail.