On Tuesday, May 18, 2021, the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust held its first "NVCT Changemakers: Saving Nearby Nature At A Crossroads," featuring a panel of eight elected officials and champions in conservation and environmental justice. The digital roundtable event sponsored by the White House Farm Foundation, LegalPerspectives LLC, and Gary and Vicky Kirkbride discussed the impact of recent conservation legislation along with the opportunities and challenges our region has in protecting nearby nature for future generations.
Panelists included State Senators Scott Surovell and Dave Marsden along with Delegates Elizabeth Guzman, David Bulova, Joshua Cole, Paul Krizek, Kathy Tran, and Vivian Watts.
"It was really inspiring to have been joined by so many incredible leaders in our community who believe that protecting nature and the outdoors is so critical to our region's health and the constituents they serve," said NVCT Executive Director Alan Rowsome.
As a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in the desire to enjoy, conserve, and preserve open space and natural areas within Northern Virginia, a region with constant and growing development pressures.
"We have great pieces of land in what we call the rural parts of Stafford County that have not been approached upon yet by growth and building developments, and I think it's going to be key for us to understand that we still need to protect those spaces," said Del. Joshua Cole (VA-28th District.)
Senator Dave Marsden from Virginia's 37th District and a leader on the Senate Natural Resources Committee, and a board member on the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation (VLCF), addressed the challenges that lie ahead for champions of land conservation going forward in Northern Virginia.
"We're going to see more and more competition around the need for siting solar projects throughout the commonwealth, the needs of agriculture, and the needs of keeping our forests intact," Marsden said. "The more that we can continue to preserve, especially near our water resources, like our rivers and streams and the bay, we can get another bang for the buck. We protect our water while protecting land."
Protecting water sources is a chief concern in a rapidly growing area, and the Potomac River is a central piece of maintaining clean water in our region. Senator Scott Surovell (VA-36th District)) and Delegate Paul Krizek (VA-44th District) were very eloquent in sharing why protecting the Potomac is such a priority.
"It's for everybody. I go on the river on my snakehead trips with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and I can't tell you how many people I see out there trying to catch dinner on the shoreline. We're not just talking about the wealthy. It's everybody who gets out there and enjoys these resources," Senator Surovell said.
Delegate Krizek emphasized the importance of cleaning the nearby creeks that lead to the Potomac River. "We had a couple of hundred young people and older people cleaning up in April during Earth Day Cleanups, just doing an incredible job, and the trash is one of the things I've been working on in the general assembly."
Kathy Tran (VA-42nd District), a strong environmental champion and representative of Virginia's 42nd District, spoke on the importance of protecting her District's water bodies. "It is not just an issue of allowing for safe recreation. So many people depend on our waterways for their livelihoods, but it is also a matter of public health and preserving biodiversity."
Delegate David Bulova (VA-37th District) grew up in King's Park West in Central Fairfax County and fondly recalled playing in a natural open space near his home. "My parents can attest to the fact that I spent much more time playing out in the woods than I did at home," Del. Bulova said.
"What drives me is I don't want to see us making the same mistakes that we have in the past, and so that comes down to tree conservation, it comes down to making sure that we've got really good zoning ordinances. We've got opportunities as we redevelop, but I also want to make sure that we're restoring the damage we've done to our natural resources."
Delegate Elizabeth Guzman, representing Virginia's 31st District and receiving an A+ rating from the Sierra Club to protect Virginia's environment, expressed her concern for responsible environmental practices as they relate to high-paying jobs.
"When we think about protecting the environment, we need to think about jobs also. We need to make sure that those are well-paid, trade, union jobs, and we need to hold developers accountable to promote environmental justice," Del. Guzman said.
In light of the recent budget amendments in this year's Virginia Assembly, the panelists addressed how the state can continue investing in urban and rural areas. Delegate Vivian Watts (VA-39th District) expressed her concern for urban investment, highlighting how small pieces of land are often overlooked.
"While it has been tremendously successful in preserving large spans of land and viewsheds throughout the commonwealth, more so than many other states, we've had a problem from the beginning in recognizing urban criticality," said Del. Watts.
"NVCT Changemakers: Saving Nearby Nature At A Crossroads" was the first of a series of events that will feature environmental leaders in our community who will join NVCT to discuss how we can better protect the natural open spaces in our region. Stay tuned for the next one!
NVCT has protected over 8,000 acres of land in the Northern Virginia region over the last 25 years and continues to host volunteer-based events that benefit our communities' public lands and waters.