To the Editor:
John Lovaas addressed the need to preserve and manage natural areas in Fairfax County [County Failing to Preserve Natural Resource Areas, Reston Connection, Dec. 12-18, 2012]. Although we concur with that need, we felt compelled to clarify several points in his column pertaining to the Fairfax County Park Authority’s 23,136 acres of parkland. Let me point out that currently more than 70 percent of our land holdings remain in forested, treed or undisturbed habitat.
We agree that degraded water quality is an issue. Much of Fairfax County was built-out prior to modern stormwater standards being enacted. Most parkland is at the bottom of the hill from developed uplands, and the impacts of excessive stormwater flows directly impact park resources. We have been working closely with the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) Stormwater staff to address these impacts. Park staff participated in the watershed plan development process, and over the last six years has partnered with DPWES and others to install stormwater improvements and stream restoration projects on and near parkland. We still have a long way to go.
The Park Authority looks at park natural areas as Natural Capital, critical natural infrastructure that provides invaluable ecosystem services and quality of life benefits. To manage this natural capital, our board adopted the Natural Resource Management Plan (NRMP) in 2004.
Over the last nine years we have been steadily implementing practices and programs in support of the NRMP. Natural Resource Management staff work closely with other county agency staff and stakeholders in almost every park project to ensure natural resource impacts are avoided or minimized and that restoration is done where impacts occur. We also work with diverse partners to repair riparian buffers and corridors. The Invasive Management Area (IMA) program has reached over 6,000 volunteers who have contributed more than 20,000 hours over the last six years to help restore parkland and educate residents about the importance of
environmental stewardship. In addition, Park Authority staff and contractors are now treating over 1,000 acres a year to control non-native invasive plant species. Also, white-tailed deer population control efforts have been underway since 1997 and now include 41 percent of county parkland.
Our efforts in natural resource management need to continue and grow.
Staff will be revising the NRMP next year to help better organize when and how we conduct resource management activities. We have also started revamping our inventory methods to better assess resources, and a pilot project is underway to develop a resource stewardship model to guide field staff.
Fairfax County has a long way to go in order to manage our natural resources fully. We have made great strides, but we also need the assistance of individuals, organizations, the business community and government entities. Tree loss in the county has been primarily on private lands. Trees on parkland cannot offset these losses, but we work closely with Urban Forest Management and others to conduct restoration
on parkland. The suggestion of creating buffers to parkland is a great one. By buffering our public natural areas with resource preservation and restoration on adjoining private lands, we can not only better protect the natural areas, but we can extend and improve the ecosystem services they provide. Stormwater, deer, invasive species and land disturbance don’t stop at park boundaries. We are impacted by what is happening around us. It took decades to arrive at the current state of our resources, and we are working diligently to improve them.
I encourage others who wish to learn more about the efforts of our Resource Management Division team to visit us online at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/resources/ or to contact the Public Information Office at 703-324-8662.
Public Information Officer
Fairfax County Park Authority