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Natural Area Protection

Once priorities for conservation have been set by the department's natural heritage program, work begins to protect the most important natural areas using a variety of conservation tools. Often this work involves other governmental agencies, private organizations and concerned citizens. The level of protection extended to an area depends on many factors including the relative rarity or fragility of its natural features.

Enabling legislation passed in 1989 entitled the Virginia Natural Area Preserves Act codified the Natural Area Preservation Fund and charged the Department of Conservation and Recreation to establish a nature preserves system and to manage these natural areas for long-term protection.

A variety of other conservation tools, including conservation easements, registry, designation, and dedication are utilized to protect public and privately owned natural areas identified through the natural heritage inventory process.

  • Conservation easements allow landowners to protect land in perpetuity while retaining ownership. With a conservation easement, the landowner conveys certain rights for future land use. Easements are recorded on the deed and often landowners are compensated through tax-incentives.
  • The Virginia Registry of Natural Areas encourages voluntary preservation of important natural lands in private and public ownership. This is a nonbinding, nonregulatory program designed to recognize property owners who act voluntarily to safeguard natural areas.
  • Legal or administrative designations such as Research Natural Areas and Special Management Areas are important protection on federally owned lands.
  • Dedication as a state Natural Area Preserve affords a natural area formal recognition and stringent legal safeguards for preservation. The Department of Conservation and Recreation's natural heritage program is responsible for implementing protection on public and private land, developing management plans, and conducting stewardship activities on natural area preserves in the system.

Click to see the staff list of the Natural Area Protection section.