DCR Discusses VA Natural Heritage Program

Tom Smith, long-standing director of the Natural Heritage Program is also on the board of the Flora of Virginia Project.

Tom Smith, long-standing director of the Natural Heritage Program is also on the board of the Flora of Virginia Project.

On Wednesday, October 28, 2015, Tom Smith, Adam Christie and Ryan Knopf —from the Natural Heritage Program of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) gave a lively presentation and discussion for Headwaters Master Naturalists on the state’s program and the Deep Run Ponds Preserve.

Tom Smith, Director of the Natural Heritage Program, gave an overview noting that there are now 62 natural area preserves in all areas of Virginia that protect unique natural communities with rare plants and animals.  DCR owns 41 of the preserves, 21 with public access, with the rest under easement, all together protecting 421 unique species and natural communities.

The Natural Heritage Program consists of teams which provide inventories, information management, environmental review, natural area protection (including public lands) and natural area preserve management. They also perform development site reviews such as for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Databases and software are shared with all 50 states, including a conservation lands database and species distribution models to predict rare species locations. So far over 8700 rare population locations and 2006 conservation sites have been identified. Our area of the state is one of the country’s significant biodiversity hotspots and the cave and karst systems are a part of that. Besides 110 globally rare species, the karst systems provide 75% of the groundwater for 27 western Virginia counties.

Adam Christie is the Shenandoah Valley Area Steward for the Program and manages 9 preserves between the Roanoke and Winchester areas. His duties include protection of habitats, research and education through compatible public education and outreach, vegetation monitoring and management, invasive species control, prescribed burning, habitat restoration and hydrologic restoration. Fire was a natural component of many area landscapes in the past until fire suppression was the norm before the 1990’s. The Program staff have conducted over 500 prescribed burns since 1998, helping to bring back native vegetation to places like the Cowbane Wet Prairie Preserve in Augusta Co.

Scirpus_ancistrochaetus

Northeastern Bulrush, Scirpus ancistrochaetus

The Deep Run Ponds Preserve consists of roughly 800 acres along Ore Bank Road in southeast Rockingham County. The 8 ponds harbor the globally rare Virginia Sneezeweed, and other rare plants such as Northeastern Bulrush and Buxbaum’s Sedge in a system where the water level varies seasonally with the groundwater table. Management activities include prescribed burns and some careful selective tree removal for habitat restoration. Headwaters Master Naturalists have already helped other groups to remove invasive plants and similar or other activities are available for the future. HMN will work on setting up a tour of the Deep Run Ponds Preserve.

To find out how you can help, contact Adam at his Verona Office at (540)332-9226 or at adam.christie[at]dcr.virginia.gov .

 – Malcolm Cameron, Cohort III, November 2015

Ryan Knopf and Wes carry out a tire dumped in the Deep Run Ponds Preserve during a Headwaters Chapter trip in February 2014.

Natural Heritage Stewards Ryan Knopf and Wes Paulos carry out a tire dumped in the Deep Run Ponds Preserve during a HMN Projects Committee trip there in February 2014.

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