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The Healthy Watersheds/Forest project is a Virginia-led, multi-year, landscape-scale effort begun in 2015 that is now in nearing completion in phase III. The goal of this project was to research and pilot alternative methods for forest and agricultural land conservation through three separate phases. Phase 1 modeled and tested alternative land use growth scenarios in a portion of the Rappahannock River Basin as a proxy for the Chesapeake Bay watershed by employing the methodology used by EPA TMDL modelers and using real land use data from the localities in the test area to determine the potential value of a BMP in the TMDL model for retaining forestland. In Phase II, Pennsylvania partnered with Virginia to determine what from the perspective of local leaders were the economic and policy incentives needed to prioritize forestland retention as a land use planning option. Phase III developed and piloted the community policy and financial infrastructure necessary to facilitate high quality forest and agricultural land conservation/retention on a sustainable, landscape scale basis. Phase III was divided into two tasks. Task 1 focused on collaborating with the municipal authorities responsible for the plans, policies and ordinances in the two pilot counties. Task 2 focused on developing a transferable financial model in the pilot counties to incentivize private capital markets to invest in the retention of forest and agricultural lands to offset future forecasted growth and development based on the 6.0 Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) model. The ultimate goal has been to create a favorable regulatory environment and incentives for private landowner participation in land conservation while also contributing to the funding requirements of counties to help them meet basic services for their citizenry through a model that can attract private sector financial interest at a scale required to achieve the Phase III goal. This Phase III report covers the research, findings and activities from the start of phase III in April 2018 through September 30, 2019, the end-date for the Chesapeake Bay Trust-funded grant period. The focus of the project team from this point forward to the end the project next Spring (with additional funding from the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities) will be on (1) designing and testing in collaboration with Orange County Virginia, the Economic Development Authority infrastructure required to aggregate landowner interests effectively, and (2) further engaging with the private financial sector to solicit its interest in participating in the Virginia approach, while refining the financial options to best meet landowner, locality and investor needs.
You can read the final reports for each phase here: