Working under the direction of University of Richmond professors Peter D. Smallwood and Stephen P. Nash, eleven UR environmental studies majors wrote papers on topics relating to the environment and climate change in Virginia. Each paper defines a problem and lays out a practical solution. All eleven papers are compiled in a document entitled, “Nature Virginia’s Economy, and the Climate Threat.” The papers are of such interest that I re-publish the abstracts below. — JAB
Seed Banks: An Insurance Policy Against Extinction from Climate Change
by Casey Schmidt
Climate change is causing the ranges of native species to shift northward at a pace that outstrips the ability of many plant species to migrate and adapt. … Although assisted migration, the process of relocating individuals or spread of seeds through human intervention, has been used successfully in some cases to preserve species, it comes saddled with potential ecological damage, and legal complications arise when these ranges cross state lines.
These complications threaten Virginia’s biological diversity, especially among rare plants and those plants from habitats affected most by climate change. In order to preserve the genetic diversity of native species before populations become isolated and inbred, this paper proposes that Virginia create a seed bank. Seed banks have been used for a variety of reasons worldwide to preserve the genes of plant species, including the preservation of crop species and for research purposes. … For this proposed seed bank, Virginia would use information collected by the state Natural Heritage Program to identify eligible species that face the greatest threat from climate change in order to preserve biodiversity, establish a genetically diverse sample for research, and potentially reestablish these endangered species in the future.
Branching Out: How Virginia Can Use Trees Strategically to Combat Biodiversity Loss
by Taylor Pfeiffer
Biodiversity loss is a consequence of climate change. As greenhouse gas emissions increase global temperatures, decreases in the abundance and diversity of species has reduced ecosystem resiliency during these changes. … Weakened ecosystems decrease the environment’s capacity to provide humans with services like safe drinking water, fuel, and protection from natural disasters. …
The agricultural industry plays a unique role in this environmental conversation, as farmland both contributes to climate change and is jeopardized by the negative effects created by the issue in a complex reciprocal cycle. This relationship, along with the presence of 8.3 million acres of farmland in Virginia, suggests that agriculture should be incorporated into the state’s climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. …
Agroforestry, the strategic integration of trees in agriculture to create a sustainable land-use system, has been utilized for environmental benefits in the past. … This paper proposes the creation of a statewide program that requires the use of agroforestry on large farms in order to preserve biodiversity in the wake of climate change. An alternative solution is a certification program for farmers who use agroforestry practices to enhance wildlife habitat. Economic incentives and implementation assistance will encourage participation, while funding for the establishment of this program, creation of publications, and organization of events will be sourced from governmental and private grants.
Land Conservation in a Changing Climate: Recommendations for Conservation Easement Reform
by Amy Murphy
Natural lands in Virginia are under constant threat from development and climate change. … Undeveloped lands provide an estimated $21.8 billion in ecosystems services annually in Virginia and are vital to the survival of the state’s wildlife. … Conserving these lands will play a major role in protecting the environment itself, biodiversity, and economic interests as the climate changes in coming decades. Conservation easements — established when a public or private organization buys or receives a donation of select land rights such as development of subdivision rights — have become the most popular means of protecting privately owned lands.
Virginia has a well-established easement program which offers landowners a state income tax credit in return for donating land rights such as development and subdivision rights. Currently, there are inefficiencies with easements which could be lessened with reform. … This paper proposes that Virginia establish statewide conservation priorities and switches from a flat rate credit for easement donations to a tiered system which provides greater incentives for easements on land with high conservation value. … Additionally, this paper proposes that Virginia require adaptive language in easement terms and standardize the monitoring process.
Climate Change and Invasive Species: Invasive Management Teams
by Virginia Frediani
In Virginia, invasive species cost the state approximately $1 billion annually due to forest loss and crop damage. … There are approximately 38 invasive species managed and monitored in Virginia. … Native species are not adapted to compete with invasive species and suffer as a result, which affects biodiversity and ecosystem health. … Climate change is a another driver in the success of invasive species, as they are better adapted to withstand climate changes over native species.
To combat invasive species in Virginia this recommendation proposes the establishment of early detection and rapid response Invasive Management Teams (IMTs). IMTs will be responsible for locating, assessing, monitoring and removing invasive species across the state. IMTs will be lead by qualified invasive species individuals from the Virginia Invasive Species Working Group. IMTs will be under the advisement of the Virginia Invasive Species Working Group with operations overseen by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and collaboration from other state and federal governmental agencies. Funding for the task force will stem from the current state and federal governmental funding for invasive species. … Virginia needs a stronger initiative to combat invasive species and protect its unique biodiversity.
Riparian Zone Protocol: A Necessary Addition to an Existing Program
by Natalya Ares
As temperature trends increase on Earth and the negative effects of anthropogenically driven climate change become clearer, the diversity and health of our natural resources continues to be threatened at a growing rate. Riparian, or streamside, zones are one of these natural resources that under normal conditions provides an enormous variety of ecosystem services: habitat, food, and shelter for organisms; biological and physical buffers to pollution and sedimentation. As temperatures increase, the patterns of the season change causing abnormal flooding and drying, which both can be detrimental to the ecosystem … and this natural riparian buffer. Future stewards of these zones will need to consider what and where to plant in order to mitigate the effects of temperature change and continue to carry out ecosystem services.
Virginia should add a riparian zone protocol to the Adopt-a-Stream program run by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to assist in the migration of plants, as well as restore existing resilient species and those plants that successfully compete with invasive species. Trained volunteers could choose between planting in the riparian zone and submitting reports of the species they find to program coordinators, to collect useful and usable data for future use by the VADCR.
Preventing Shoreline Hardening to Mitigate Climate Change Impacts
by George Appling
As a result of global climate change, sea level has risen and will continue to rise throughout the 21st Century. Sea level rise has been higher in Virginia than any other state over the past 100 years. … Varied projections show that sea level could rise 1.2 to 5.5 feet above 1992 levels by 2100. … Sea level rise threatens to drown intertidal wetlands. …
Wetlands are key biodiversity hotspots and provide a number of ecosystem services. … Wetlands have the ability to adapt to sea level rise by migrating inland as long as shoreline hardening, such as a bulkhead, is absent. … In Virginia, private landowners must be granted a permit by local citizen wetlands board to alter or harden their shoreline. Although wetlands boards have been given sufficient guidance by government agencies, they have mostly failed to achieve Virginia’s goal of preserving wetlands. .. If this practice continues, Virginia can expect a significant loss of wetlands, biodiversity and ecosystem services.
To avoid losing wetlands, landowners should be required to discuss the environmental impacts of and alternatives to shoreline hardening with a Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences scientist before submitting an application. Permit decisions should move from local wetlands boards to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. These recommendations would limit future shoreline hardening and preserve wetlands and their associated biodiversity in the face of climate change.
Protecting the Chesapeake Bay from a Changing Climate
by Emma Thompson
The Chesapeake Bay is not sufficiently protected by the states around it, and is suffering the consequences of a changing climate. … It requires more protection to increase resiliency, and in order to ensure the long-term survival of the wildlife it sustains and the ecosystem services it provides. Creating a Marine Protected Area (MPA) at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay extending into the Atlantic Ocean will protect multiple habitats and fish populations, which will in turn improve the health of the Bay. …
Most of this MPA will restrict harmful fishing, drilling, dumping, and extraction while allowing large-scale commercial fishing. … It will also include no-take zones, a vitally important part of an MPA, to protect commercially important species and to ensure their long-term survival. .. A no-take zone is a designated area where any and all extractive fishing practices are prohibited.
Designation of an “MPA” is a federal status change, meaning the state government is not going to be entirely responsible for funding and enforcing this sanctuary. Instead, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S., Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Coast Guard will have responsibility for enforcement.
Life Cycle Cost Assessments: A Win-Win Solution for Virginia Coastal Wetlands
by Austen Kelso
Virginia shorelines are facing some of the highest rates of sea level rise seen over the last five millennia and are among the most vulnerable coastlines in the country to the effects of sea level rise such as flooding and storm surge. … In the face of these rising sea levels, coastal wetland habitats will be forced to migrate inland to avoid inundation. … However, increased development on the Virginia coast threatens these critical wetland habitats by blocking their inland movement as they try to avoid rapidly rising sea levels. Without a clear migratory path, wetlands’ ecosystem services and biodiversity will be lost to saltwater inundation.
To prevent the loss of wetlands’ migratory paths from development, this paper proposes that any new development behind coastal wetlands must undergo a Life Cycle Cost Assessment (LCCA). Completion of the LCCA will expose developers to both the future costs they will incur from rising sea levels, flood mitigation, and the costs associated with possible wetlands destruction. Exposing developers to the future costs they will incur has the potential to save a developer future property loss while also maintaining wetlands’ inward migration path by deterring development. Cost of the LCCA will fall on the developer of the coastal property.
Requiring Responsible Mitigation Banking
by Julia Baer
Virginia faces widespread loss of its tidal wetlands due to sea level rise. Sea level rise is occurring at a rate faster than wetlands can adapt and move to higher ground, resulting in marsh submergence. … Tidal wetlands provide innumerable ecosystem services that benefit both humans and general biodiversity, including pollutant filtration, erosion prevention and flood control. … The issue of wetland loss is particularly relevant to Virginia because Virginia is experiencing the fastest sea level rise of any state on the eastern seaboard. …
Because of federal and state programs that attempt to achieve “no net loss” of wetlands, the business of wetland mitigation banking has experienced enormous growth over the past few decades. These businesses contract with developers to restore and/or create new wetlands to compensate for wetland loss due to development. While this mitigates the rate of wetland loss, “no net loss” is not truly achieved because federal law requires the replacement of wetlands only if their loss is due to development.
Wetland mitigation banks should be required to take sea level rise into account when selecting new sites, and forbidden from using sites where function losses exceed 5 percent within 50 years, using the “low” sea level rise projections included in the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s Recurrent Flooding study in 2013. This will ensure longer lasting protected wetlands in the mitigation banks, and decrease developer-based wetlands destruction.
The Adopt-a-Wetland Program
by Lindsey Hines
Wetlands are a “biological super system” hosting a vital reservoir of biodiversity potential. Conserving wetlands and protecting their biodiversity is instrumental in upholding the ecosystem services wetlands provide. These ecosystem services include flood control, food supply, clean water and recreation areas. All act as major contributors to Virginia’s economy. …
Current models projecting climate change impacts on the Virginia coastline predict sea-level rise to be incompatible with the rate of migration and adaptation needed for wetlands. … Existing wetland conservation efforts lack the required action to combat these imminent problems because land acquisition is imminent to their health and survival. The implementation of an Adopt-a-Wetland Program would accomplish this goal while increasing public awareness about wetland biodiversity.
The proposed program would focus on marketing strategies to persuade target parties such as fisheries, academia, similarly minded non-profits, individuals and major corporations to “adopt” wetland areas by acquiring them. Coastal property is expensive. This program will capitalize on marketing strategies, the current trends of environmentally friendly consumer preferences … and stakeholders’ interests in the health of local wetlands.
Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay, an Oyster Sanctuary
C. Andrew Denney
The population of the Eastern Oyster, Crassostrea virginica, in the Chesapeake Bay is now 1 percent of what it was during the 19th century. … This decline is the result of various harmful effects such as disease, nutrient pollution, hydrological change, habitat loss and over-harvesting … and is further threatened by warming temperatures associated with climate change and acidification via atmospheric greenhouse gas intensification.
C. virginica can recover and in addition help mitigate damage to the health and biodiversity of the Chesapeake Bay as climate change advances. The biodiversity of the Bay is directly correlated with oyster populations. Oysters provide reef habitat and water filtration for the Bay, so it is an especially effective species to mitigate acidification and species loss from climate change.
In order to recuperate Eastern Oyster populations in the Bay, this recommendation proposes that Virginia expand its oyster sanctuary by 9,000 acres, matching Maryland’s sanctuary expansion in 2009. The costs of sanctuary establishment are minimal, but two possible funding sources also are proposed. The economic and ecological value returned to the region by healthy oyster reefs far surpasses the restoration costs in one to five years.There are currently no comments highlighted.