Governor Kaine will be hosting a Natural Resources Leadership Summit this year to tackle some of the most challenging environmental issues of the Commonwealth. The Summit will deal with four issue areas:
- Land Conservation
- Outdoor Recreation, Fisheries & Wildlife Resources
- Water Quality and Water Resources
- Air Quality
The goals will be to both generate creative ideas for solving these challenges, and building a degree of consensus in the environmental community on what resources are needed to achieve these goals.
In 2003, Governor Warner held a similar Summit that resulted in a high degree of success. In 2003, there also was significant underfunding of state agencies with environmental responsibility like the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the Department of Forestry and others. That issue has improved since 2003. One of the largest challenges today is land conservation.
The Chesapeake Bay 2000 agreement has a number of specific goals that the states of the Bay Region agreed to meet by 2010. One of these goals is to preserve 20% of the land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. With just three years to go, Virginia has some catching up to do. Governor Kaine has set a goal of conserving 400,000 acres between now and 2010. Achieving this goal will help assure that Virginia meets its Chesapeake Bay agreements.
The best way to advance all of the environmental concerns on the Governor's list is to acquire more parkland next to our streams, rivers and lakes. Forested buffers to bodies of water provide a natural filter for pollutants that would otherwise be washed into our waterways. Parkland next to waterways provides some of the best trail and boating opportunities for the public, as well as connected wildlife habitat. And mature forests are an excellent filter for our air quality.
These are not new ideas. In the 1960s, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority acquired over twenty miles of parkland along the north shore of the Bull Run/Occoquan Rivers. This parkland provides fantastic recreational opportunities for boating, hiking, camping and other activities, in addition to being an important natural filter to the Occoquan Reservoir, which is the drinking water source for 1.3 million people. The Regional Park Authority also owns 13 miles of parkland along the Potomac River, which protects our drinking water and provides numerous recreational opportunities.
There are other ways to achieve some of the environmental benefits that we need, but I know of no better solution than expanding public parkland to reach our goals in land conservation, water quality, outdoor recreation and habitat enhancement all at the same time. The challenge will be to find new ways of funding parkland expansion. We have not had a state park bond since 2002. Local park expansion is usually funded with local bonds that need to compete with other public needs like schools, public safety and other local government priorities. Are there other potential revenue sources that could be targeted to meet these goals? How do we best coordinate and prioritize state, regional and local efforts at parkland expansion to get the greatest environmental and recreational impact? Whatever the answer is to these and other questions, it is helpful to have the Governor bring a focus and priority to these issues.