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Natural Heritage Program - Information Management Section
The Virginia Natural Heritage Program places great importance on having reliable, accurate and up-to-date information readily accessible for decision-making. The information management section is responsible for incorporating inventory data into a database system that maintains comprehensive data from a variety of sources on the location and condition of Virginia’s plants, animals, natural communities and geological features, as well as on environmental, political and land ownership factors that influence biodiversity in Virginia.
Since 2001, the Natural Heritage Program has been using a GIS data management system called Biotics that is used throughout the Natural Heritage Network. The system currently contains Virginia’s records for nearly 8000 elements of biodiversity, 9,000 natural heritage resources occurrences, 1,500 managed area properties, 2,000 conservation sites, 35,000 data requests and 20,045 separate information sources. This cache of data informs all of the work done by Natural Heritage staff – for example, determining rarity ranks, inventory needs and prospects, land protection priorities, potential conservation partners and stewardship needs. It is also a key resource for others – public and private land owners and land managers, researchers, conservation organizations, and students and teachers. Natural heritage resource data are especially useful for making land management decisions. Regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality rely on natural heritage data in their permitting processes, and private developers and consultants and public development agencies such as the Virginia Department of Transportation use natural heritage resource data proactively in project planning to avoid or minimize negative environmental impacts. The Natural Heritage Program handles approximately 3,500 requests annually for information and project review.
The Natural Heritage Program has two GIS coverages: the Conservation Lands Database and the Conservation Sites Database.
The Conservation Lands Database includes boundaries and attributes for public and certain private lands in Virginia that have potential significance for serving a variety of conservation, recreation and openspace roles. Included are most federal and state lands, regional and interstate lands such as water and park authorities, parks and undeveloped lands owned by localities, lands owned as preserves by non-profit conservation organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and local land trusts, and conservation easements held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and other non-profit organizations. Public access to this database is provided through the DCR website.
The Conservation Site Database holds information on key areas of the landscape worthy of protection and stewardship action because of the natural heritage resources and habitat they support. Each site has a boundary that encompasses one or more rare plant or animal population, or natural community and its associated habitat and other adjacent land thought necessary for the element’s conservation. Conservation sites are ranked based on the rarity, quality and number of element occurrences they contain. This coverage available to licensed users through a password protected access to an Internet web site and has two key uses: to identify priority lands for conservation actions, and to help with the design and review of development projects.