Governor Bob McDonnell today announced that the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) are partnering with Isle of Wight County to permanently conserve a forested tract of land that helps protect an important source of drinking water in Hampton Roads. It is considered ideal habitat for the globally rare longleaf pine, and features more than five miles of frontage on the Blackwater River.
Commenting about the partnership, Governor McDonnell noted, "The conservation of these 2500 acres is another step forward towards our goal of conserving 400,000 additional acres of Virginia land by the end of my term. This acquisition was made possible through a partnership by the Department of Forestry, the Virginia Land Conservation Fund and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It's this kind of cooperation that will ensure success in our bipartisan efforts to conserve more of Virginia's environmentally important and sensitive areas. I commend the efforts of all involved, and extend a special thanks to those who have been leading the initiative, in particular Thomas Wright, a member of the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors, Paul Burton, interim Isle of Wight county attorney, Mark Popovich, Isle of Wight assistant county attorney, and The Nature Conservancy's Brian van Eerden."
Isle of Wight County recently completed the purchase of the 2,507 acres that offer a wide range of public benefits (recreation; forest habitat; protection of old-growth swamp forest; wildlife conservation, and drinking water protection). Isle of Wight County officials, together with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), approached state agencies to secure funding for a permanent conservation easement on the property. The Department of Forestry has secured $850,000 in federal Forest Legacy funds; the Virginia Land Conservation Fund will contribute $566,000; and the US Fish and Wildlife Service will add $75,000 through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act program.
More than 700,000 residents of Norfolk, Virginia Beach and portions of Chesapeake and Portsmouth receive their drinking water from the Blackwater River and other sources. Having a large portion of the adjacent river's forestland protected through a conservation easement would help ensure clean water for those people as forests function as filters to keep pollutants from entering the river.
Ownership by the County of Isle of Wight should afford new recreational opportunities on more than five miles of the Blackwater, which was recently designated a State Scenic River. By establishing designated launch sites on the property, canoe and kayak enthusiasts will have additional opportunities for some great flat-water paddling. And the network of forest roads offers ample opportunities for walking, hiking, bird watching and other low-impact recreational activities.
The sandy and sandy-loam soils of the upland portions of the land offer ideal conditions for pine management, particularly for longleaf pine, which occurred on the site until the 1970s. This globally rare ecosystem, which stretches from Virginia's coastal plain to Texas, is considered one of the most ecologically diverse in the world -- with more than 900 endemic plant species. It is also one of the most endangered, having been reduced to just 3 percent of its original range. (Longleaf pine was prized for its straight, strong wood -- most ships' masts were longleaf pines -- and for its disease and pest resistance.)
State Forester Carl Garrison said, "This forest has so many public benefits, it just has to be conserved. We are very excited to be partnering with Isle of Wight County and our colleagues at DCR to ensure that a significant portion of this property remains a working forest. And we are grateful to The Nature Conservancy, the US Forest Service's Forest Legacy program and the US Fish and Wildlife Service for their help in this regard."
The Virginia Department of Forestry protects and develops healthy, sustainable forest resources for Virginians. Headquartered in Charlottesville, the Agency has forestry staff members assigned to every county to provide service to citizens of the Commonwealth. VDOF is an equal opportunity provider.
With nearly 16 million acres of forestland and more than 144,000 Virginians employed in forestry, forest products and related industries, Virginia forests provide more than $23 Billion annually in benefits to the Commonwealth.