Setting environmental goals and reaching them was behind the Fairfax County Park Authority Board’s adoption of a new Natural Resource Management Plan (NRMP) on January 29, 2014. The NRMP established priorities for managing natural resources in county parks over coming years.
Here’s a glance at the NRMP, what was accomplished during its third year, and what is being done during 2017.
The NRMP sets goals, and staff accomplished several of those by starting to classify the county’s natural vegetation communities. We improved the way the agency collects data on natural resources and started putting all that information into a single, cloud-based database. Behind the scenes, the Natural Resource Branch (NRB) of the Fairfax County Park Authority established standard operating procedures for reviewing encroachment onto parkland and for reviewing the natural resource impact of developments that are not on county parkland.
Those are organizational steps behind the scenes that will make future managing of your resources easier and more efficient. Efficiency is responsible use of taxpayer dollars.
Saving you time is another result of the NRMP. The NRB web page has been revised so that things you seek are easier to find, and that process continues.
Also in 2016, ecosystem restoration began at Margaret K. White Horticultural Park and continued at Old Colchester Park and Preserve under a program called Helping Our Land Heal (HOLH). Another HOLH project kicked off at Poplar Ford Park following 2015’s restoration of an ecosystem at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park under HOLH.
A reorganization of the Natural Resources Branch led to the creation of new programs involving inventory and planning, protection of natural capital, management and restoration of ecosystems, and control of invasive species. Two ecologists were hired to develop and manage the ecosystems and natural capital programs, and a third was hired to recruit and coordinate volunteers for the Invasive Management Area Program.
Staff surveyed about 4,440 acres for non-native plants, bringing the total acreage surveyed for them to 21,440. The agency now has a complete inventory of invasive plant life in those areas. About 800 acres of natural vegetation communities were mapped, and use of GIS for invasives was expanded to include data collection for rare species. In addition, 18 parks were reviewed for deer browse impact, and 13 parks were studied for deer density. That information will help manage white-tailed deer.
The Park Authority is responsible for reviewing development plans throughout the county to assure no adverse effects on natural resources, and 159 of those plans were reviewed over the year. Natural resource staff also provided technical assistance on encroachment, easements, and programs of other county agencies that affect parkland.
By the numbers, 1,254 acres were treated for non-native invasive vegetation, 940 white-tailed deer were removed from 77 parks, 100 Canada geese nests were treated at lakefront parks and golf courses, and six acres of land were cleared by prescribed fires, all using best management practices.
Volunteers donated 6,289 hours removing non-native invasive vegetation at 41 sites. That’s 43,689 total volunteer hours since the Invasive Management Area program started. That’s a value of an estimated $145,087 in Fiscal Year 2016 and more than one million dollars since program inception. Another 37,071 hours were donated through the Fairfax County Police Department to the deer management program, which raises the total value of volunteer time in that effort to more than two and a-half million dollars.
Over the year, the agency forged partnerships with organizations such as the Fairfax County Environmental Quality Advisory Council, the Virginia Departments of Forestry, Game and Inland Fisheries, and Conservation and Recreation, Earth Sangha, the Fairfax County Park Foundation, park friends groups, REI, the Northern Virginia Audubon Society, Fort Belvoir and Quantico Marine Corps Base.
Now and Future
Looking ahead, natural resource staff will continue developing best practice solutions for parkland issues, improving data collection, and developing standard operating procedures for master planning and ecosystem restoration. HOLH projects will continue at Poplar Ford Park and Old Colchester Park, and the major installation phase of the meadow restoration will get underway at John C. and Margaret K. White Gardens.
Staff has begun resurveying parkland where non-native invasive vegetation species have been located, and the parks will continue to be surveyed every five or six years. This will ensure that treatments are effective and that goals are achieved. Deer surveys also will continue.
Staff will continue to review development plans and to support projects involving encroachments, easements and trails. They’ll keep an eye on non-native invasive vegetation and Canada geese. And they’ll make it easier for you to know what they are doing. The NRB is refocusing its stewardship education efforts away from hard-copy printed materials to updated digital information. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr and Twitter, check our website, and subscribe to our free magazine, Parktakes, and free newsletter, ResOURces, to stay in touch with your park agency.