New online tool to help guide conservation efforts

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RICHMOND, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- A new statewide land conservation strategy identifies high-value lands and conservation sites across Virginia.

Governor Ralph Northam announced the creation of ConserveVirginia earlier this week.

It is a first-in-the-nation, data-driven approach that features a "smart map" to guide conservation efforts.

According to a release, the "smart map" is a synthesis of 19 mapped data inputs that have been divided into six categories, each of which represents a different, overarching conservation value.

The categories are Agriculture and Forestry, Natural Habitat and Ecosystem Diversity, Floodplains and Flooding Resilience, Cultural and Historic Preservation, Scenic Preservation, and Protected Landscapes Resilience.

The release says these categories contain more than five million acres of agricultural and forest lands.

It adds that outdoor recreation is a critical component of the strategy and will be a key focus across all of the categories.

"It is time to take a more scientific, data-driven, and accountable approach to land conservation in our Commonwealth. ConserveVirginia is about using the best information we have available to identify our true conservation needs and focus on protecting our limited resources," said Northam. "When Virginians invest their tax dollars in conservation projects, we have an obligation to ensure those efforts yield the greatest benefits in the most cost-effective manner for the Commonwealth."

The program has identified 6.3 million acres of high-priority conservation acres across Virginia that represent the best of each category, and these areas will help guide long-term conservation efforts by serving as a "menu" to guide and inform acquisitions, environmental mitigation projects, and Virginia Land Conservation Foundation Grants.

The release says the map is designed to be updated regularly as new data becomes available and additional resources and protection tools emerge.

The administration will also work to add new data models to it as data and technology allow.

A future map could identify high nutrient and sediment load areas that are in need of conservation and restoration to protect the Chesapeake Bay's water quality.

To explore the new map and online tools, click on the link in the Related Links box.

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