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Virginia launches first U.S. data-driven, statewide, land conservation strategy

Governor Ralph Northam has officially launched ConserveVirginia, Virginia’s first in the nation, data-driven, statewide, land conservation strategy that identifies high value lands and conservation sites.

ConserveVirginia’s living “smart map” is the synthesis of 19 mapped data inputs, divided into six categories, each representing a different overarching conservation value. The categories are: Agriculture & Forestry; Natural Habitat & Ecosystem Diversity; Floodplains & Flooding Resilience; Cultural & Historic Preservation; Scenic Preservation; and Protected Landscapes Resilience. The categories contain more than five million acres of agricultural and forest lands. Outdoor recreation, including access for underserved communities, is a critical component of the strategy and will be a key focus across categories.

“It is time to take a more scientific, data-driven, and accountable approach to land conservation in our Commonwealth—ConserveVirginia is about using the best information we have available to identify our true conservation needs and focus on protecting our limited resources,” said Governor Northam. “When Virginians invest their tax dollars in conservation projects, we have an obligation to ensure those efforts yield the greatest benefits in the most cost-effective manner for the Commonwealth.”

ConserveVirginia identifies 6.3 million acres of high priority conservation areas across the Commonwealth representing the best of each category. These mapped acres will help guide a long-term land conservation strategy for Virginia by serving as a “menu” to guide and inform state land acquisitions, environmental mitigation projects, and Virginia Land Conservation Foundation Grants.

“Virginians deserve a land preservation and conservation strategy that is focused on identifying the highest value conservation lands and the Northam administration is dedicated to ensuring the Commonwealth conserves the best of the best, whether that means the best farms, forests, scenic overlooks, historic sites, or natural areas,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “Through this targeted conservation strategy, Virginia can prioritize and invest more wisely.”

The ConserveVirginia map is designed to be updated regularly as new data becomes available and additional resources and protection tools emerge. Similarly, the administration will work to add new data models to the ConserveVirginia map as data and technology allow. For example, future maps will identify high nutrient and sediment load areas in need of conservation and restoration to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay water quality.

“Maintaining vibrant working landscapes is essential to the success of our agriculture and forestry industries in the Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “It is vitally important to conserve working lands not only for ecological benefits, but also for the economic and social benefits they offer. They are not mutually exclusive, but are interdependent, and land conservation tools such as ConserveVirginia can help us keep land intact and ensure that we have healthy, sustainable forests and farms for future generations.”

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