GIS Map Gallery: November 2009

Map of the Month: November 2009

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Priority Conservation Areas

Habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation represent the most significant threats to the effective conservation of wildlife species and natural, communities. These repercussions must be managed proactively via a comprehensive planning tool, recognizing that most land conservation occurs locally and that priorities need to be established to guide allocation of limited resources. A collaboration between the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF), Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation - Division of Natural Heritage (DCR-DNH), and Virginia Commonwealth University - Center for Environmental Studies (VCU-CES) synthesized conservation information and priorities into a unified dataset of Priority Conservation Areas (PCA). Priority conservation areas were defined as: lands and surface waters identified as important for conservation of Virginia's wildlife, plants, and natural communities. The identified lands/waters can be used to prioritize areas for preservation, protection or specific management action.

Because DGIF did not have an existing conservation planning dataset, the Priority Wildlife Diversity Conservation Areas (PWDCA) dataset was created using existing geospatial wildlife data, guidance from the Wildlife Action Plan, and input from biologists, specifically for this effort. The PWDCA was then combined with DCR-DNH's Conservation Sites and Natural Landscape Network, and VCU-CES's Aquatic Resource Integrity Layer to produce the PCA. The PCA is a geospatial representation of conservation opportunities using a 1 to 5 ranking from Moderate Opportunities to Imperative Opportunities. Combining information and priorities from state conservation agencies and a major research institute, the PCA provides a unified tool to guide green infrastructure planning at the regional and local level.

To assess the PCA for vulnerability to development, DCR-DNH's Virginia Conservation Lands Needs Assessment - Vulnerability Model was updated. The revised Composite Vulnerability Model was used to attribute the PCA polygons with average relative vulnerability. All areas in the PCA have both a conservation opportunities rank and a vulnerability rank.

To test the applicability of the PCA at a local level, a partnership was established with Northampton County. Using Community Viz software, an extension to ESRI's ArcGIS software for visualizing and analyzing planning scenarios, VCU-CES developed an application to evaluate the current and proposed zoning regulations in Northampton relative to impact on Priority Conservation Areas. This application was creating using input from Northampton County planning staff and was delivered to them for their own use and continued development.

A workshop was held at VCU to transfer the results of this project to regional planners. Planning District Commissions from the Coastal Zone of Virginia were invited to attend. There were 22 participants. The first half of the workshop provided information on the development, background, and potential use of the PCA dataset. A hands-on session, providing experience using Community Viz software, constituted the second half of the workshop.

In conclusion, this project produced a synthesized dataset to guide conservation planning, assessed these areas for risk to development, demonstrated use of this tool within planning and visualization software, and transferred the knowledge to regional planning groups. It is anticipated that Planning District Commissions will use the PCA and other results of this project within their development of green infrastructure initiatives and to assist counties with comprehensive planning.

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