COUNTY OF ALBEMARLE

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

 

AGENDA TITLE:

Biodiversity Work Group Recommendations

 

 

SUBJECT/PROPOSAL/REQUEST:

Staff report on implementing the Biodiversity Work Group’s recommendations and their implications for County operations.

 

 

STAFF CONTACT(S):

Tucker, Foley, Davis, Cilimberg, Clark

 

LEGAL REVIEW:   Yes

 

AGENDA DATE:

March 2, 2005

 

ACTION:     x                    INFORMATION:   

 

CONSENT AGENDA:

  ACTION:                         INFORMATION:   

 

 

ATTACHMENTS:   No

 

 

REVIEWED BY:

 

 

 

BACKGROUND:

In November 2001, the Board of Supervisors authorized the creation of a Biodiversity Work Group (BWG), whose charge was to begin the Biodiversity Assessment of the County called for in the Natural Resource and Cultural Assets chapter of the Comprehensive Plan, and to advise the Board on the composition of a standing advisory committee on biodiversity issues. The BWG was made up of citizen volunteers including local naturalists, professionals in biological and environmental sciences, and experts in environmental education. On December 1, 2004, the Board accepted the report of the Biodiversity Work Group, which described the group’s work on the following tasks:

 

•           Inventory and collect currently-available biodiversity data.

•           Identify biodiversity data gaps, prioritize data needs, and develop a general strategy for addressing data gaps and achieving an assessment of the state of biodiversity in the County. Identify a structure for an ongoing, constantly-updated assessment of biodiversity resources to be adopted into the Comprehensive Plan, with an estimate of costs.

•           Assess prospects for donations to the inventory of time, expertise, or other resources from the community, including the University of Virginia

•           Provide time, data, and other support to assist with establishment of the foundation of a County-wide biodiversity assessment.

•           Assist in development of preliminary materials for public education on biodiversity

•           Make recommendations regarding the size, composition, and necessary expertise for the permanent committee, to be known as the Natural Heritage Committee

 

The report concluded with three sets of recommendations:

 

1.         Recommendations to the Board of Supervisors regarding the establishment, composition, and role of the standing committee called for in the Natural Resources and Cultural Assets chapter of the Comprehensive Plan

2.         Immediate measures to be taken to protect biodiversity in the County

3.         Recommendations to the standing committee for the structure and content of the Biodiversity Action Plan that the Natural Resources and Cultural Assets chapter of the Comprehensive Plan states they should draft.

 

This report focuses on the steps for carrying out the first set of recommendations in this list, and the issues they raise for County operations.

 

STRATEGIC PLAN:

Goal 2.2: Protect and/or preserve the County’s natural resources.

Goal 3.3: Development and implement policies that address the County’s growth and urbanization while continuing to enhance the factors that contribute to quality of life in the County.

 

DISCUSSION:

The Biodiversity Work Group was the first of three major steps toward implementing the biodiversity-protection goals included in the Comprehensive Plan. That first step set the foundation of a County-wide Biodiversity Assessment and recommended initial directions for protection efforts.

 

The second step—which is the focus of this report—is the creation of the Natural Heritage Committee which would continue and expand the Assessment and develop a Biodiversity Action Plan. The Assessment and occasional advisory input would provide improved information for staff to use in policy development and project review. This report addresses the resource-allotment and operational implications of appointing the Committee and making use of the Assessment.

 

A third future step would be the Board’s review and potential adoption of the Biodiversity Action Plan that the Natural Heritage Committee would assist in developing. The implications of that initiative will need to be evaluated by the Board at the time of those recommendations.

 

Staff will address each of the Biodiversity Work Group’s recommendations regarding the Natural Heritage Committee individually in the following:

 

Recommendations for Membership of the Natural Heritage Committee

1. The process of establishing the standing Natural Heritage Committee should begin upon completion of the Biodiversity Work Group’s work and acceptance of this report by the Board of Supervisors.

 

Community Development staff would need to work with Board of Supervisors staff to develop a fact sheet for the committee and initiate an application process, as used for the creation of all other County committees. Community Development Department staff and the County Attorney’s office would need to develop a set of by-laws for the Committee. Board of Supervisors and Community Development staff would need to set up an interview process to assist the Board with appointments.

 

Resources needed to establish the Committee: Staff time from Planning Division, Board of Supervisors staff, County Attorney’s office. The purpose of the Committee and how it would relate to planning and review processes are discussed under “Recommended Tasks for the Standing Natural Heritage Committee” later in this report.

 

2. The Natural Heritage Committee should consist of 8 to 12 members; the Work Group feels that this is a good compromise between the wide experience base of a larger committee and the more efficient interaction and decision-making of a smaller group. The group agrees that a larger group would be cumbersome and slow to act. When additional expertise is needed, the Committee should invite experts to attend meetings and provide input that the Committee needs.

 

These standards can be included in the by-laws for the Committee.

 

Resources needed: To be included as part of establishing the Committee as described in Recommendation #1.  No additional resources will be needed.

 

3. The Committee needs to include a range of expertise in fields applicable to its tasks (see below). As with the Biodiversity Work Group, membership should include individuals with experience in:

 

a)         natural history (including those with detailed knowledge of local wildlife, plants, and other resources);

b)         terrestrial, aquatic, and landscape ecology;

c)         biological conservation and conservation planning;

d)         population genetics; forestry; geology and soils;

e)         geographic information systems for conservation;

f)          and science education (adult and youth).

g)         The group should also include local landowners and citizens with interests in biodiversity conservation, farming and forestry, and conservation-oriented rural and urban development.

 

This list of fields and interests can be included in the announcement of the formation of the Committee. Prospective members would be asked which of these areas they have experience in. If necessary, staff could contact prospective

members to obtain more information to help the Board in the selection process. The intent is for this to be a working committee providing professional expertise in this area; as such, general citizen representation is not emphasized. The Biodiversity Work Group report said:

 

These tasks are largely technical in nature, requiring experience and expertise in natural history, environmental sciences, conservation planning, and education. The Work Group therefore feels that the Committee would function most effectively if constituted as a technical advisory body that reports to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, rather than as a "stakeholder" group charged with balancing biodiversity and many other interests. (However, some representation of landowners, concerned citizens, farmers, foresters, and/or persons interested in conservation-oriented urban and rural development would be appropriate, as the committee would benefit from their perspective.) With clear advice from such a technical group, the County's normal policy-development and project-review processes could balance biodiversity and other issues of concern.

 

Resources needed: To be included as part of establishing the Committee as described in Recommendation #1.  No additional resources will be needed.

 

4. All members of the Committee, no matter what their background or area of expertise, should be supportive of the biodiversity-protection goals that the County has adopted into its Comprehensive Plan. The Work Group feels strongly that the Committee’s role should be to support, expand on, and implement that policy. As part of the application process for the Committee, potential members should be asked to confirm their support for biodiversity protection in the County, and their answers should be considered in the Board’s selection of the most suitable candidates.

 

As part of the committee application process, a question can be included requesting that prospective committee members briefly describe their background and interest in biodiversity conservation, and in the areas of interest/expertise listed in #2 above. The answers could be evaluated by the Board as part of their appointment process, without any additional process.

 

Resources needed: To be included as part of establishing the Committee as described in Recommendation #1.  No additional resources will be needed.

 

5. The membership of the Committee should reflect the diversity of the community. The Work Group recommends that the process of announcing the Committee’s formation and accepting applications be expanded to ensure that persons of both genders and any ethnic, racial, and/or socioeconomic group are well aware of the opportunity and have an equal opportunity to be involved.

 

Planning Division staff will work with Board of Supervisors staff and Public Relations staff to ensure that a diversity of news and information outlets is used, in order to reach a diverse array of citizens.

 

Resources needed: Staff time from Planning Division, Board of Supervisors staff, Community Relations staff.

 

6. The Committee should be known as the “Natural Heritage Committee.”

 

Resources needed: No additional resources will be needed to implement this.

 

 

Recommended Tasks for Standing Natural Heritage Committee

 

1. Development of policy recommendations to the Board in response to biodiversity issues and information gathered from the Biodiversity Assessment. The Committee should be consulted on programs, regulations, and Comprehensive Plan changes that may affect biodiversity protection.

 

The primary function of the Committee is to develop and maintain the Biodiversity Assessment, interpret and advise the County on the use of the Assessment, and make recommendations regarding methods to protect resources identified in the Assessment. Internal staff procedures would need to be modified to add the Committee as a resource to be used during development of programs, regulations, and Plan amendments. The Committee is seen as a resource to be utilized when reviewing new land-use and environmental policies. The Committee would provide advice and recommendations to

staff and, from time to time, to the Planning Commission and the Board. It will be similar in character to the Historic Preservation Committee.

 

Resources needed:  Community Development staff time.

 

2. Development of educational materials and programs on biodiversity.

 

Educational experts included in the Committee would develop these materials and work with other professional educators to implement programs in the community. Staff would provide coordination assistance, but the substance of the work would be done by Committee members.

 

Resources needed:  Community Development staff time, possibly printing costs for brochures or other materials.

 

3. Input on and oversight of the maintenance, expansion, updating, and evaluation of the ongoing Biodiversity Assessment begun by the Biodiversity Work Group, and development of a protocol for assessing changes in the state of biodiversity (with reference to planning goals).

 

This is the primary function of the Committee. The Assessment was begun by the Biodiversity Work Group.  Much of the ongoing work of the Assessment would be done by Committee members, providing the benefits of their expertise without cost to the County, although at some stage it could become necessary to work with a consultant and/or with the Natural Heritage Division of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. This would require funding to cover the costs of assessment tasks (landscape analysis, comprehensive surveying of important habitats, etc.) that the Committee could not do alone but that are important to effective conservation planning. No funding requests are included in the initial setup of this Committee.

 

The Assessment would become an advisory tool to be used by Community Development staff in policy development and project review, providing information on the location, character, and management or protection needs of biodiversity resources.

 

Resources needed: Community Development staff time; occasional mapping projects or data management by Geographic Data Services staff. Although no funding requests are anticipated now or in the near future, requests may be necessary in the future to meet needs the Committee and/or the County cannot meet on their own (additional surveying of important sites, expert analysis of large-scale landscape patterns and functions, or other types of projects.).

 

4. Assistance in staff development of an action plan that specifies detailed steps for achieving protection of Biodiversity as outlined in the Comprehensive Plan;

 

Many potential steps are included in the Recommendations section of the full Biodiversity Work Group report. The Committee would serve as a resource to help staff develop these and other measures into a plan with more detailed recommended steps and clear priorities. The development of the action plan is also directly related to implementation measures in the proposed Rural Areas Comprehensive Plan Amendment. Several strategies in the proposed Rural Area Plan relate to biodiversity protection and anticipate the Committee’s input; therefore the creation of the Committee is important to the full implementation of that Plan as well.

 

Resources needed:  Community Development staff time.

 

5. Provision of periodic reports to the Board of Supervisors on the state of biodiversity in the County.

 

This task would be carried out by the Committee members with the assistance of staff, based on Biodiversity Assessment work and ongoing monitoring programs to be developed by the Committee. Staff would anticipate (at a minimum) an annual report from the Committee to the Board; staff and the Committee may choose to report more or less frequently.

 

Resources needed:  Community Development staff time.

 

6. Review of the biodiversity impacts of selected development proposals, and comment to the Planning Commission and Board regarding the impacts and potential mitigation measures or alternative approaches.

 

This is intended to be a secondary role for the Committee. The process could be compared to that of the Agricultural and Forestal Districts Committee or the Historic Preservation Committee, in that it would be advisory rather than regulatory. The Comprehensive Plan identifies biodiversity protection as a priority for the County and it needs to be considered in reviews. The Committee would act in a resource and advisory capacity to provide information and interpret biodiversity data on request. The Committee would not have authority to approve or deny a plan. No additional applications or processes would be created.

 

Projects selected for review would include those located on properties known to include important biodiversity resources (such as those identified in the Biodiversity Work Group report), or those that impact important habitat types (riparian forests, wetlands, uncommon ecological communities, large forest areas, etc.). It is expected that the majority of review projects submitted to the County would not be sent to the Committee for comment.

 

For those projects for which Committee input is sought, the Committee would be asked to provide staff with comments on the expected extent of biodiversity impacts on the site. This review would be based upon information supplied by the applicants, the County’s Biodiversity Assessment, and/or outside sources such as the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. Site visits by staff and/or by Committee members may be beneficial in some cases. The Committee’s response could include an assessment of the important resources on the site, the expected impacts of the proposal, and potential mitigation measures or alternative approaches. That information could be used to develop solutions with the applicants, when necessary.

 

Staff time would be required to prepare summary reports on projects that would benefit from the Committee’s input. Staff expects reviews to be achieved within the existing review schedules.  This will require staff to schedule Committee meetings and prepare reports for Committee meetings in conjunction with Planning Commission deadlines.

 

Resources needed: Community Development staff time

 

Overall Resource Needs

As previously noted, these recommendations represent the second step toward implementing the biodiversity-protection goals.  Based on the primary activities in this step, the creation of the Natural Heritage Committee, which would continue and expand the Biodiversity Assessment and develop a Biodiversity Action Plan, and the Committee’s advisory input for use in policy development and project review, staff estimates the ongoing resource needs are:

 

 

Other Community Development staff, particularly environmental staff and project reviewers in the Planning and Current Development divisions, would also be involved in the biodiversity efforts, either providing technical information or incorporating biodiversity considerations into policy development and project review where appropriate. Administrative staff support (for mailings, agendas, etc.) and occasional input from Geographic Data Services staff would also be needed.

 

Based on staff experience with other policy initiatives such as Historic Preservation, the best estimate of the total workload for the Community Development staff support discussed above would be approximately 500 hours per year, or the equivalent of one-quarter of the time of one full-time employee (FTE).  Future staffing needs will be determined by the outcome of the Committee’s work on the action plan.

 

 

 

 

Policy & Process Implications

This second step in the implementation of biodiversity protection goals also has both policy and process considerations:

 

 

 

 

 

RECOMMENDATIONS:

Staff has attempted to outline the next step in implementing biodiversity protection goals as identified by the Biodiversity Work Group, including potential resource requirements and the possible implications of these initiatives to County policy development and project review.  Unless the Board determines it needs additional information, staff recommends that the Board act to authorize creation of the standing Natural Heritage Committee and direct staff to prepare the application process and the by-laws for approval by the Board.  It is understood that the Committee, as part of its work, will assist in developing a more complete Biodiversity Action Plan from which the Board can base its future decisions regarding further initiatives to protect biodiversity.

 

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