RD257 - Report of the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation - September 2013

Executive Summary:
The Virginia Land Conservation Foundation (Foundation or VLCF) serves an important land conservation mission in the Commonwealth. It leverages state funds through matching grants and partnerships to protect working farms and forests, historic lands, open space and parks, and natural areas. The Foundation’s distinctive features include a cross-cutting grant review process to maximize conservation values of funded projects, an inter-agency staff review team that involves expertise from multiple state agencies, and a final review by a diverse Board of Trustees whose membership includes appointees from the Governor, Speaker of the House of Delegates, and the Senate of Virginia.

Virginia Land Conservation Foundation

Since its inception in 1992, VLCF has experienced a name change from the Virginia Conservation and Recreation Foundation to the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, a significant expansion and improvement to its Code authority, and has sustained a successful grants program. In 2000, the Foundation’s Board of Trustees grew from 9 members to 18 members. In 2006, the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry also was added to the Board.

Total funds appropriated to the Foundation have exceeded $44.5 million since FY2000 (see Table 1 in full report). Of this amount, approximately $33.4 million has been allocated to VLCF’s matching grant program, and more than $9.8 million has been allocated to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation in accordance with Virginia Code § 10.1-1020(C)(1).

Since first receiving funding in FY2000, the Foundation has held eight grant rounds. During those eight grant rounds, VLCF received 231 applications requesting approximately $96.2 million in state funding, which was almost three times the available amount (see Table 2 in full report). To date, VLCF has awarded funding to 129 of the 231 grant projects, awarded approximately $36.2 million to land conservation projects, and helped protect more than 45,000 acres at an average cost of $734 per acre.

The Foundation has also met its charge to develop a strategic plan for the expenditure of moneys received from the Fund. The strategic plan governing fiscal expenditures has been incorporated into successive VLCF grant manuals beginning in 1999, and has been updated regularly. The most recent revisions to the manual were made for the December 6, 2012 grant round. The grant scoring criteria are outlined in Table 23 and the entire grant manual may be found at http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/virginia_land_conservation_foundation/.

The Foundation is one of the key tools that Virginia utilizes to attain its land conservation targets. The Virginia Land Conservation Foundation also serves as a coordinating mechanism for bringing together a number of state agencies’ land conservation efforts and priorities. A coordinating agency task force made up of the Director of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the State Forester, the Director of the Department of Historic Resources, the Director of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the Executive Director of the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, or their designees, provide the VLCF Board with assistance on such matters as grant criteria, grant priorities, and grant selection. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation serves as the lead staff for the Foundation.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Office of Land Conservation serves as a statewide central contact, repository, and clearinghouse for land conservation in Virginia. During VLCF grant rounds, this Office serves as an important source of information for potential grant applicants and acts as the grant manager for projects funded. The Office’s website ( http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/land_conservation/) includes a wide variety of land conservation materials and contact information that assists landowners, conservation organizations, and managers with their conservation planning. In addition, the website provides a link to the state’s first comprehensive statewide public lands resource mapping tool, which was developed by DCR. This important land conservation planning tool is regularly updated and is accessible at http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/land_conservation/tools02a.shtml.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation also has developed other databases that assist in the Foundation’s work. For example, the Department’s Natural Heritage “Conservation Sites Database” is based upon more than 20 years of data collection and is Virginia’s most comprehensive information management system on rare, threatened, and endangered plants and animals and their natural habitats. DCR also has produced several statewide tools such as the Conservation Lands Database (which provides a dynamic parcel-level tracking tool for all conservation lands in the Commonwealth) and the Virginia Conservation Lands Needs Assessment (which provides statewide models to display lands ranked in conservation importance based on their recreational, cultural, agricultural, forest economics, and watershed integrity assets). These tools, as well as others described below, are utilized to help assess grant applications submitted to the Foundation for funding consideration. Additionally, DCR has developed a Natural Heritage Plan. This plan identifies key habitats for rare species and significant natural communities that merit preservation.

The 2007 version of the Virginia Outdoors Plan (VOP, or Outdoors Plan) was expanded to substantially meet the requirements of the Foundation’s comprehensive plan as required under §10.1-1021 of the Code of Virginia. The VOP, prepared by DCR every five years, is the state’s official plan for the protection and conservation of Virginia’s important natural, outdoor recreational, and open space resources. The 2007 VOP has been nationally recognized for its content. The Outdoors Plan is based on a complete inventory of all publicly held park and open space land. This inventory includes state-owned lands and lands held by federal agencies and localities. This inventory of existing lands and facilities serves as a basis for the needs assessment. In addition to its analysis of existing conditions statewide, the VOP also provides recommendations for each of the State’s Planning Districts in meeting outdoor recreation, conservation, and open space needs. Key areas necessary to protect the Commonwealth’s natural, scenic, open space, and cultural resources are identified. Currently, work is underway to publish online the 2013 Virginia Outdoors Plan, which will then serve as VLCF’s comprehensive plan.