Conservation is Funding Priority for Virginia

Richmond, Va. – Virginia voters say providing funds for land conservation should be as high a state legislative priority as funding transportation needs and public schools, and they are willing to pay for conservation efforts, according to a new statewide poll released today. Moreover, preserving open space and protecting the quality of Virginia’s air and water rank among the top issues voters expect the next governor and General Assembly to address.

Two well-known research firms-one Republican and one Democrat-conducted the poll for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Nature Conservancy Action Fund and the Trust for Public Land. The poll reveals that voter support for land conservation has risen dramatically compared to the results of a similar survey completed in 1992. Key findings of the new poll include:

  • 97% of Virginia voters rank “protecting air and water quality” as important, placing this issue-along with public education, also with 97% support-atop the list of legislative priorities
  • 89%, or nearly nine out of 10 voters, rate “preserving and protecting open space” as important
  • 82% of those polled believe that Virginia’s natural areas soon will be lost forever unless we act now to save them
  • 96% of voters believe that Virginians owe it to future generations “to protect the land, water and wildlife for their use and enjoyment”
“It is especially encouraging that the vast majority of Virginians surveyed feel that protecting our air, water and land resources ranks among the Commonwealth’s highest priorities,” said Joseph H. Maroon, Virginia Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “Clearly, the public understands that protecting important lands will help to improve local streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.”

To ensure the protection of Virginia’s forests, farms, open space and natural areas, say 65 percent of the state’s voters, the legislature and governor should establish permanent state funding for land conservation.

Virginia currently lags far behind other states in funding conservation programs. North Carolina, for example, devotes $60 million annually to conservation efforts. A strong majority of Virginians said they would support dedicated state funding for conservation, and eight in ten said they would back a plan to dedicate $40 million per year from the state’s current land-recording tax as a permanent source of funding for land conservation. This funding would be directed to the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation to match other public and private dollars and would be used across the Commonwealth to acquire conservation easements and open-space lands from willing sellers.

“The people of Virginia have grown increasingly concerned about maintaining quality of life, countering threats to our natural and cultural heritage, and sustaining the economic benefits of agriculture, forestry and tourism,” said Michael L. Lipford, Virginia Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy. “The survey shows clear and strong support for addressing land conservation-purchasing conservation easements and land from willing sellers-through existing recordation-tax revenues.”

Voters also expressed solid support for Virginia honoring its commitment to join with Maryland and Pennsylvania to protect 20 percent of the land within the Chesapeake Bay watershed by the year 2010. Maryland and Pennsylvania already contribute more than $100 million annually to protect land within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and 78 percent of Virginia voters favor our state providing at least $40 million per year for this effort.

“Additional funding is key to carrying out the tri-state agreement to protect 20 percent of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and protecting Virginia’s natural, historical and recreational resources, said Debi Osborne, Chesapeake Field Office Director for the Trust for Public Land. “This poll shows the strong support of Virginians to create a substantial dedicated funding source of at least $40 million per year and also indicates that the majority of voters are willing to pay for conservation.”

The Tarrance Group, a Republican research firm based in Alexandria, Virginia, and The Kitchens Group, a Democratic research firm located in Orlando, Florida, conducted the survey April 23-26, 2001. The poll consisted of telephone interviews with 750 likely voters from across the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In a similar survey conducted in 1992, voter concern about crime and public education was five times higher than concern for the conservation of natural resources. In the current survey, the level of concern for protecting Virginia’s natural resources nearly equals concern about crime and public education. Similarly, in 1992, 57 percent of voters said the state should not spend money to buy land when priorities such as public education needed funding. In the present survey, 67 percent state that conservation funding should not be sacrificed to support other needs.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation – With more than 92,000 members, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation ( is the largest conservation organization working exclusively to Save the Bay. With headquarters in Annapolis, Md., and state offices in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, CBF works throughout the Chesapeake’s 64,000-square-mile watershed to protect and restore the Bay with programs in environmental education, resource protection and restoration.

The Nature Conservancy — The mission of The Nature Conservancy ( is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. Since 1951, the Conservancy and its one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 12 million acres in the United States alone, including 225,000 in Virginia, and it owns 1,400 preserves across the country-the largest private system of nature sanctuaries in the world. The Nature Conservancy Action Fund, a separate 501(c)4 organization, helps preserve and protect plants, animals and natural communities through the mobilization of members of the conservation community in the legislative and public policy arena.

The Trust for Public Land – A national non-profit land conservation organization, the Trust for Public Land ( specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiation, conservation finance and law to protect land for people. Founded in 1972, TPL has protected more than one million acres of land nationwide, including more than 10,000 acres in Virginia. TPL recently published “Keeping our Commitment: Land Conservation in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.”