Public Hearings on State Budget: Support Needed for Natural Heritage Program

On January 4, 2017, four hearings will be held at separate locations around the state by the House Appropriations Committee with an opportunity for citizens to let their legislators know what is important to them. We are asking everyone to consider speaking out about the critical importance of funding our Natural Heritage Program. This information, provided by our Conservation Chair, Marcia Mabee, gives a comprehensive picture of the challenges that face the NHP.  Join the core of informed citizens who are standing up for the environment in 2017. 

The schedule, the issue, a letter of support, and talking points are all found by scrolling down this page, starting with the schedule.

10:00 a.m. Northern Virginia Community College, Ernst Center Theater, Annandale

10:00 a.m. Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, Grand Hall, Abingdon

12:00 p.m. Christopher Newport University, David Student Union, Ballroom, Newport News

12:00 p.m. House Room D, General Assembly Building, Richmond

Talking Points

Talking points in support of the Natural Heritage Division of the Department of Conservation and Recreation. You can speak as a member of the Virginia Native Plant Society, or as a citizen, or both.

  • The Natural Heritage Program within the Department of Conservation and Recreation is the only state agency whose sole mission is to protect Virginia’s spectacular biodiversity.
  • It does this, primarily, through management of a system of Natural Area Preserves.
  • Since 2002, the number of natural area preserves and the acreage within them has more than doubled – now standing at 63 and nearly 56,000 acres.
  • At the same time the number of staff to manage these jewels of biodiversity has gone down from 48 in 2002 to 43 today.
  • Visiting these preserves is the 4th most popular outdoor activity for Virginians.
  • A 2014 re-benchmark adopted by the Advisory Board of the Department of Conservation and Recreation stated that an additional $3 million is needed in the Natural Heritage budget to properly carry its mission to the citizens of the Commonwealth.
  • Today, we are $2.448 million short of that goal.. 
  • The Governor’s budget, while it makes no cuts to Natural Heritage, does not provide critically needed resources.
  • Please support Del. Terry Kilgore’s amendment to add the needed funds for Natural Heritage in the upcoming General Assembly.

Letter of Support

November 15, 2016
The Honorable M. Kirkland Cox
P.O. Box 1205
Colonial Heights, VA 23834

Dear Mr. Majority Leader: 

The undersigned organizations are deeply concerned about the inadequacy of resources for the Division of Natural Heritage (DNH) within the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and urge you to support an amendment to increase the budget for DNH. 

The Division of Natural Heritage is the primary agency within the Natural Resources Secretariat   dedicated to identifying and protecting Virginia’s spectacular biodiversity.  Much of that is done through the establishment of a network of State Natural Area Preserves, 22 of which are open to the public and several more are slated to open with improved funding (see attached map).  In fact, according to the 2011 Virginia Outdoors Plan, visiting natural areas is the fourth most popular outdoor activity in Virginia, and hiking and water access –provided on most Preserves – are in the top three.

In 2002, the DNH had 48 full-time staff positions and managed 34 Natural Area Preserves.  Today, DNH has 43 full-time staff, 14 of which manage 63 Natural Area Preserves — an additional 35,775 acres. This increased acreage includes over 600 mapped natural community and rare species locations that must be monitored and managed on the Preserves.  A total of 8,802 locations must be monitored statewide.  In the same span of time, the state’s population has grown by 1 million, increasing demand for all DNH program services. 

This extreme mismatch between the Division of Natural Heritage’s needs and its available budget represents a crisis for continued protection of Virginia’s natural heritage both now and for future generations.  Because of the budget shortfall, Natural Areas on the Chesapeake Bay have been subjected to illegal, unsafe and destructive uses (e.g. public dumping, off-road vehicle trespass, poaching, etc.) due to lack of resources to monitor them on weekends and holidays.  For example, the North Landing River Natural Area Preserve has been closed temporarily due to inability to protect it from trash dumping and illegal drug use.  Inadequate staffing of Preserves in the western regions leave the state vulnerable to issues pertaining to illegal access and public safety (i.e. illegal access to cliffs, illegal climbing of abandoned fire tower).  Moreover, due to lack of funds, opening of new public access areas has been delayed or reconsidered, rare species monitoring, invasive species control and prescribed burning have been deferred, creating a backlog of management projects.  Ongoing projects such as restoration of longleaf pine savannas, warm season grasslands and migratory bird stop-over habitat is now behind schedule,  as is cave monitoring for septic tank leaks, hydrologic changes, rare species identification and landowner assistance with cave and sinkhole issues.  The majority of municipalities’ drinking water in western Virginia is sourced by the springs, wells and surface water withdrawals which are fed by Virginia’s 4,100 caves and karst features.  These are just a few examples of a broad array of compromised, or terminated, activities caused by inadequate resources.

A re-benchmark of the resources needed to adequately meet DNH’s needs documents a requirement of an additional $2,948,129 million in fiscal year 2018(9). In 2015, $500,000 was added to the budget, setting the need now at $2,448,129.  The $500,000 added in 2015 is: 1) supporting two full time Natural Area Stewards, one in Lee County and one in the Chesapeake Bay region providing management for 11 Preserves; 2) providing support for a Karst Protection Coordinator; and 3) improving public access to several Preserves, and helping in other ways detailed on the attached fact sheet.

A second fact sheet, also attached, (SCROLL DOWN)details how the remaining $2,448,129 will be utilized.  The undersigned organizations urge you to join us in supporting a budget amendment to accomplish this goal. 


Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Blue Ridge Land Conservancy
Bull Run Mountains Conservancy
Clinch River Valley Initiative
Conservation Forestry
Flora of Virginia Project
Friends of Southwest Virginia
New River Land Trust
Northern Virginia Conservation Trust
Piedmont Environmental Council
Prince William Conservation Alliance
Rockbridge Area Conservation Council
The Capital Region Land Conservancy
The 500-Year Forest Foundation
The Nature Conservancy
Valley Conservation Council
Virginia Conservation Network
Virginia Association for Parks
Virginia Native Plant Society
Virginia Society of Ornithology
Wetland Studies and Solutions, Inc.

Fact Sheet

Factsheet:  2014 Re-benchmark, Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage July 2016


In 2002, the Natural Heritage Program had 48 full-time staff positions and 34 Natural Area Preserves.  Today 63 Natural Area Preserves and an additional 35,775 acres, a total of 8,802

mapped natural community and rare species locations to monitor, one million more people in the state, and increasing demand for all Natural Heritage Program services are managed by 43 staff.  Staff needed:  Administrative Specialist, Conservation Planner, Fire Manager, Healthy Waters Coordinator, Invasive Species Specialist, Natural Areas Botanist, Natural Areas Information Specialist, three Natural Areas Zoologists,  three Karst Protection Specialists, Natural Areas Spatial Information (GIS) Specialist, Natural Heritage Project Review Specialist, Shenandoah Valley Operations Steward, seven Stewardship Technicians, and a Southeast Region Natural Area Operations Steward..           

Staffing and Operations Total: $2,948,129 

Total Funding Needed for Fiscal Year 2017(8): $2,448,160 ($2,231,160 personnel + $217,000 operating) (note: minus $500,000 provided in 2015)


As part of Virginia’s land conservation initiative, the Virginia Natural Area Preserve System, managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation has grown by 29 new Natural Area Preserves including 101 Tracts and 35,775 acres since 2002.  This represents more than a doubling in the size of the system. The Preserve System currently contains 63 Natural Area Preserves, 55,894 acres. This System is a critical component of the Commonwealth’s public lands network, outdoor recreation offerings, and the Commonwealth’s land conservation efforts.  The 2011 Virginia Outdoors Survey found that visiting natural areas is the fourth most popular outdoor activity in Virginia, up from 5th in 2006 and 11th in 2001. Hiking and water access are in the top three and provided on most natural areas.

Staffing Costs  $2,231,160 (of original $2,417,090) 

$70,000/FTE (salary & benefits) plus $22,965/yr in basic operating expenses. Details:

  • $1,800 telecommunications;
  • $1,000 computer/office supplies;
  • $8,565 vehicle/travel costs;
  • $3,500 field supplies and equipment;
  • $6,000 office space rental;
  • $2,100 training. 
  • Total:  $2,231,160

Natural Area Preserve Re-Benchmark Operating Costs  $217,000 (of original $531,039) 

Statewide biological management plus new public access development at six strategically located natural area preserves: The Cedars, Lee County; Cleveland Barrens, Russell County; Pedlar Hills, Montgomery County; Deep Run Ponds, Rockingham County; Antioch Pines, Isle of Wight County; and Difficult Creek, Halifax County.  Boundaries, Gates, Gravel for roads and parking, trails, signage, law enforcement, invasive species control, fire management, habitat restoration, hunting.  Details: 

  • 423 miles of boundary on 5 year rotation at $0.55 – Need = $209,000,
  • 153 gates 10 year life – Need = $12,030
  • Access Roads $4.00/ft on 5 year schedule for 14 miles Need = $57,568
  • Trails maintenance $0.25/ft for 14 miles DCR and some dedicated NAP trails Need = $17,398
  • Entrance, interpretive and information signs, 270 signs on 5 year replacement Need = $6,150
  • Parking area maintenance for herbicide spraying, potholes, tire stops, resurface  annual cost for 6 car lot = $300 – Need = $10,350
  • Law enforcement – surveillance cameras and supplies ATV and boat maintenance  training supplies – Need = $15,350
  • Invasive Species, Fire Management, Habitat Restoration and Public Hunting – costs for herbicides, equipment and supplies, contracted control work, equipment rentals, hunting blinds and materials – Need = $203,193

What Does Active Preserve Management Look Like?

  • Boundary maintenance (posting signs, painting trees, marking corners)
  • Maintain public access facilities (roads, parking areas, hand carry boat launches, kiosks, trails, gates, boardwalks, interpretive signs)
  • Oversee managed hunts
  • Volunteer coordination
  • Outreach (field trips, presentations, committee membership)
  • Develop and maintain positive relationships with neighbors
  • Prescribed burning – reintroducing fire for improving habitat
  • Invasive species control – eradication, mapping, monitoring
  • Habitat restoration (longleaf pine savannas, warm season grasslands, wetlands, open woodlands, migratory bird habitat, etc.)
  • Endangered plant, animal and natural community population monitoring/reporting
  • Ongoing data collection on Preserves, and the integration, management and analysis of those data within the larger Natural Heritage database, so that current natural heritage resources data drive Preserve management and species monitoring
  • Cave monitoring for septic tank leaks, hydrologic changes, rare species
  • Law enforcement (to deter illegal activities such as plant theft, illegal dumping, and public use violations)

Examples of Recent Management Challenges

  • Plant theft at Buffalo Mountain (6 ½ foot Rhododendrons)
  • Poaching at Crow’s Nest (out of season and trespass turkey hunting)
  • Illegal trash dumping and drug use on North Landing River (filled industrial dumpster)
  • Illegal artifact hunting at Savage Neck Dunes 
  • Off-road truck damage to rare wetland habitat at Cherry Orchard Bog
  • Landowner complaints at Ogden Cave (nearest operations staff three hours away)
  • Spray paint graffiti at Crow’s Nest, Buffalo Mountain
  • Trespass and climbing on abandoned fire tower at The Channels

Consequences of Limited Staff and Resources

  • Closed North Landing River NAP, Virginia Beach
  • Stopped construction of new public access areas
  • Deferred monitoring of rare species populations and natural community conditions
  • Deferred maintenance (signs, boundaries, roads, trails, boardwalks)
  • Deferred invasive species management (relying on limited grants/donations)
  • Deferred prescribed burning (raised grants/donations where possible)
  • Increased use of volunteers (requires more coordination time)
  • Increased use of remote surveillance
  • Countless hours of karst staff time and gasoline dollars lost traveling to project areas stretching from Winchester to Cumberland Gap

What would the Additional FTEs do?

  • Administrative Specialist – Assure Division level responsibilities meet Audit requirements and operational needs for procurement, travel, and human resource and financial management functions to keep up with expanded resources and staff, and larger Natural Area Preserve System.
  • Conservation Planner – Develop and execute additional land conservation protection needs at natural area preserves and monitor natural area preserve easements.
  • DCR Fire Manager – Conduct prescribed burns statewide on Natural Area Preserves & State Parks, critical for human and property protection, resource management & wildfire control.
  • Healthy Waters Coordinator – Carry out statewide efforts to find and protect Virginia’s most biologically diverse streams via land conservation efforts at DCR and with Partners.
  • Invasive Species Specialist – Coordinate and conduct invasive species management statewide on natural area preserves and with partners on areas of natural heritage significance.
  • Natural Areas Botanist – Conduct plant surveys statewide. 3,871 known rare plant species mapped locations, identification and monitoring is technical and critical.
  • Natural Areas Information Specialist – collect, manage, analyze and distribute key data on natural communities, rare species and natural area management needs.
  • Natural Areas Zoologists – Conduct animal surveys statewide. 3,196 known rare animal mapped locations, identification and monitoring is very technical given difficulty in knowing all invertebrates and vertebrates – requiring three specialists.
  • Natural Areas Karst Protection Specialists – Provide technical assistance, education and support for agencies, localities and landowners statewide from Lee County to Frederick County for 4,100 caves. Determine subsurface flow paths for groundwater in karst counties of Virginia and monitor groundwater quality.  Monitor health of species and systems in DCR owned cave systems. Three specialists
  • Natural Areas Spatial Information(GIS) Specialist – Manage Natural Area Preserve System and support State Parks via management of and supporting field staff use of mapped data for gates, natural resources, boundaries, fire lines, hunt areas and all physical aspects.
  • Natural Heritage Project Review Specialist – Respond to 2,200 written information requests per year, support interactive web based mapping application, manage data agreements and outreach education.
  • Shenandoah Valley Operations Steward – Develop and maintain parking areas trails and access facilities, public safety lead, manage public hunts, volunteer coordination and education.
  • Stewardship Technicians – year round natural area preserve management – most actions require two staff.  Road and parking area maintenance, trail maintenance and site presence, boundary posting, visitor interaction, invasive species management, trash pickup, prescribed fire support, rare species monitoring, equipment maintenance and interpretive sign development/installation. One technician per region for total of seven.
  • Southeast Region Operations Steward (Law Enforcement) – Essential natural resources management, operations support and law enforcement (LE) presence at North Landing River Natural Area Preserve, once re-opened to public access, and to support future public access at South Quay Sandhills Natural Area Preserve – both openings key fulfilling to Governor McAuliffe’s recent VDCR, VDOT and VDGIF MOU to promote and support increased recreational water access for Virginians.  In the bigger picture, position will also support ten other Southeast region preserves, for which there is currently no LE presence, and for which the Chesapeake Bay Region Operations Steward is now responsible for, in addition to nine Preserves on the Shore.

Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us. – Theodore Roosevelt Photo credit: Department of Conservation and Recreation