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Virginia CZM Progress

Daily Press OPED:  Doug Domenech: Investing in the Future of our Coast April 22, 2012

This Earth Day is an opportunity to celebrate an important anniversary. For the last 25 years, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program, a network of state and local partners funded through the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, has been finding innovative and resourceful ways to preserve the Commonwealth’s abundant coastal resources. Their investments have helped revitalize the unique character and ecological health that defined Virginia’s coast centuries ago. Almost 5,000 acres of eelgrass now wave with the ocean tides on the seaside of Virginia’s Eastern Shore due to the success of the Virginia CZM Program’s multi-partner initiative and $3 million investment, the Virginia Seaside Heritage Program. Devastating storms in the 1930s wiped out most of the region’s eelgrass beds and the bay scallops that rely on them. Today, scallops have been reintroduced to the restored eelgrass beds and this critical marine ecosystem is once again thriving. It proves just how dramatic restoration efforts can be if we maintain high quality coastal waters. The Virginia CZM Program launched the Virginia Oyster Heritage Program in 1999, jump-starting the impressive oyster recovery announced on February 7th by Gov. McDonnell. Through $1.5 million of Virginia CZM Program’s federal funding and additional private and public oyster restoration funds, the program restored 14 one-acre oyster sanctuary reefs and 500 acres of adjacent harvest areas in the Rappahannock River, and more acreage on the Seaside of the Eastern Shore. In 2007, the Virginia CZM Program reconvened the Oyster Heritage Program partners and together they developed the innovative strategy that combines harvest rotation with preservation of broodstock sanctuaries on the Rappahannock River – a strategy that has become the model for other oyster restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay. Beaches and dunes are our best natural defense against storms and flooding. Inventorying and protecting these critical coastal resources has long been a focus of the Virginia CZM Program. The program’s investment in a detailed analysis of Virginia’s beaches and dunes led to a change in the Code of Virginia in 2009 that significantly expanded protection of beaches and dunes to all coastal localities. Ongoing funding from the program also supports the installation and monitoring of Living Shorelines, a natural technique that can protect property owners’ shorelines and create healthier habitats for fish and other wildlife. The Virginia CZM Program has distributed more than 54 ecotourism grants in the last 25 years worth more than $1 million — funding construction of public access amenities such as nature trails, canoe and kayak floating docks, wildlife observation decks, an Ecotour Guide Certification Program, the 20 year old Eastern Shore Birding & Wildlife Festival, the coastal portion of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail, and the Eastern Shore Seaside Water Trail. Tourism is a major driver in Virginia’s economy, and ecotourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of that industry. It connects people to the environment and instills an appreciation of our natural resources. Providing public access and investing in the conservation of special coastal places go hand in hand. The Virginia CZM Program’s acquisition of 3,537 acres has helped grow ecotourism in the state while also protecting sensitive coastal habitats. In Northampton County, the program helped expand Kiptopeke State Park and create the Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve. Tourism revenue in the county increased 11.2 percent in 2011, the highest jump in revenue in the state. What is particularly impressive about the Virginia CZM Program is how it has done more with less in its 25-year history. When adjusted for inflation, the funding the program receives through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has decreased by 48 percent since 1987. During the same time, Virginia’s coastal population grew from about 3.6 million in 1986 to about 5.1 million in 2010 – a 41 percent increase. This means more people, placing more pressure on finite coastal resources. How does the program remain effective? The key steps are aligning and leveraging resources and missions; implementing new technologies to get messages and scientific data out to coastal managers, decision-makers and the public; and relying on a dedicated staff that capitalizes on every opportunity to wisely use available dollars. The Virginia CZM Program and its partners have broken new ground in some areas and protected old ground in others. The result has been the promotion of a unique perspective on Virginia’s coastal zone. Together we can expect continued success in the next 25 years! Domenech is Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources

Copyright © 2012, Newport News, Va., Daily Press

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