Albemarle County Natural Heritage Committee
) was formed in July 2005 to advise the Board of Supervisors and other County officials on how the County can preserve its biological character. Since then, they have added information to a biodiversity database, created several data layers in the
County’s Geographic Information System (GIS)
which depict the location of natural resources, and are in the process of creating a forest monitoring network in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service. Another project involves creating a biodiversity action plan to inform landowners of resources that could be on their property.
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in its second annual report to the Board
, NHC members are asking for additional staff support and funding to help assist their work program. They’re asking the County to allocate at least a quarter of one Planning and Community Development staffer’s time, as well as half of one GIS employee’s time. They also want up to $3,000 to fund educational programs.
“The future of the Committee, however, we feel looks bleak without County support in the next year,” said Michael Irwin, the Chair of the NHC. “Without staff to help respond to the public about biodiversity issues, to add to the biodiversity database and conduct GIS analyses, little progress can be made in implementing this important biodiversity action plan.” Irwin warned that many NHC members would not serve a second term if the County cannot provide the funds. He acknowledged the County faced tough financial decisions, but that officials needed to follow through with their Comprehensive Plan goals.
(Jack Jouett) applauded the work of the committee and said the issue of funding would be decided during the discussion of next year’s budget. “I think we all know it’s an area where we’d like to devote more resources , but the question is, can we find those in the current year?”
(Rio) was concerned that at least one NHC member has quit over the funding issue. He asked Irwin to do everything to convince NHC members to stay on at least through the budget cycle. Irwin said he would at least need a verbal commitment that the County would allocate staff time and the funding for the NHC’s mission.
NHC member Carleton Ray said he wanted the Board to know what the stakes are. “It’s very well-known and completely documented that the loss of what we call ecological services… cost money. Lots of money… I would estimate that this County is already losing several million dollars already because of a lack of attention.”
Rooker said he sympathized, but pointed out that County Executive Bob Tucker has notified the Board that they will need to find $4 million in budget cuts during this fiscal year. Slutzky asked Tucker to put a value on the staff time being requested. Tucker responded between $50,000 and $60,000.
(Samuel Miller) suggested that the NHC become involved with any open houses put on by the Farm Bureau as the land use tax revalidation process is implemented. “I’m picturing some tables with people from your group that could plant the seeds of ideas, if not give full-fledged plans to people of how to manage their land for the sake of the biodiversity,” Thomas recommended.
Irwin said that much of the mission could be spread through the schools, but said that the NHC is suffering because not enough people know about the group.
(Scottsville) suggested tapping into cash proffers made by developers to pay for the funding.
Only Slutzky gave a firm commitment to finding ways to fund the NHC’s activities, even if that meant scaling back other priorities in Planning and Community Development.
“What you’re making it possible for the County to do is identify what are the ecological systems that provide service value to the community,” Slutzky said. “So that we can make intelligent land-use planning decisions in a way that doesn’t undermine, compromise and erode the ecological system service value that is an economic asset that the community owns that we want to protect.”