This Report examines the state of County biological resources, identifies the major threats to their survival, recommends strategies for protection and public education. The report was completed in 2004 by local scientists of the Biodiversity Work Group and staff of the Department of Planning and Community Development. It serves as scientific foundation for the work of the Natural Heritage Committee. You can download copies by clicking here. See the summary volume for a concise presentation of main findings. Here are some points.
Biodiversity is the variety of life in all forms and at many levels, from genes and species to entire ecosystems. Biodiversity is essential for the functioning and health of ecosystems and for the provision of ecological services on which all living organisms, including humans, depend.
The Report recommends the following guidelines for protecting our County's biodiversity: Protect and restore large blocks of contiguous forests and extensive aquatic ecosystems. Maintain or restore connections between terrestrial and aquatic habitats. Maintain multiple examples of native ecological communities, or at least sites with physical elements necessary to support them. Buffer ecologically valuable areas and sites containing rare species. Convey the importance of biodiversity and ecological services to the public. Maintain active protection, monitoring, management and restoration programs.
At the time of European colonization forests covered most of our County. Since then, nearly all of our forests were cleared for agriculture or cut for timber. Habitat disturbances and losses have caused local disappearances or reductions of many native local species. During the twentieth century, with the decline of agriculture, county forest areas expanded. Today our rural areas are home to many native species though their distributions and abundances must differ significantly from precolonial conditions.
Various factors threaten County biological resources. Expansions of the human built environment destroy and fragment habitats and degrade water resources. Invasive species from around the world compete with native species and cause new diseases. Climate change threatens to make Albemarle unsuitable for some existing native species.
Public education on biodiversity is essential. Education should be based upon an overall plan to give citizens opportunities to educate themselves on biodiversity issues, with a focus on both understanding issues and taking action to support biodiversity.
The Report also recommends that we assess the state of biodiversity in the County on an ongoing basis, that information on our biological resources and conservation principles be integrated into land use planning processes.