Conservation Action in Early 2021

Unplanted Scaly blazing star (Liatris squarrosa) in a remnant natural grassland close to downtown Charlottesville. Image by D. Floyd

February 24, 2021

Grasslands Conservation in our Communities. Because of growing concern in the conservation community, in January we made a public announcement that we intend to request the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Councilors consider “adopting a resolution that would make normal, and official, specific best management practices (detailed in the resolution) for supporting and protecting intact, emergent, and restored grassland habitats and the native plants and animals they harbor along roadsides, in utility rights-of-way, and on public lands with open space.” The resolution is in the final draft stage, to be delivered to authorities in 2021.

Howell’s pussytoes (Antennaria howellii ssp. neodioica) is among several rare native species in a remnant grassland along Avon Street. Image by D. Floyd

Natural Savanna and Rare Species in Path of Development. A new development is being planned to connect the Mill Creek Community to the newly named Mountain View elementary school, south of Charlottesville. In that corridor we identified, documented, and reported a potential pre-settlement savanna habitat remnant with rare species and extremely high native diversity. This unplanted natural grassland will now be considered for preservation and public education related to the forgotten and overlooked natural grasslands of the Piedmont.

Bearcorn (Conopholis americana) is shedding its racist common name (not mentioned here). Image by Ezra Staengl

Changing Racist Species Names. Our staff wrote and signed a letter and delivered it to the Virginia Botanical Associates and the Department of Conservation and Recreation requesting that racist common names be completely removed from all public sources related to the identification and naming of plants. Many would argue that the overuse of English and Latin names (as opposed to Indigenous names) is systemically racist as well (and we tend to agree). We believe a reasonable first step is to request change with those names that are obvious and inflammatory. Officials agreed to review our specific requests, and updates are forthcoming and will be reflected in the new update and future publications of the Virginia Atlas of Flora. 

The Loss of a Remarkable Tree. CUH staff, Drew Chaney, discovered that the hypothesized last specimen of natively occurring Loblolly pine in eastern Albemarle County was recently lost to a logging operation. While the tree species is common in the south, and indeed in pine plantations in Central Virginia, this tree was considered the westernmost natural specimen in the region. It was old, and a bit of an echo of the forgotten pine – oak savannas of the Outer Piedmont. All we could do was contact the Natural Heritage Committee that oversees resources in the area and urge them to increase and improve their private land owner relationships. Education is the only way to prevent losses like this. It’s difficult to conserve a species if you don’t know it exists. 

All that is left of a 60 acre prairie in the easternmost portion of Biscuit Run Park, along route 20 

Natural Prairie at risk at new Public Park. Sometimes the process of park planning and development moves along at a pace that is far ahead of any due diligence to objectively assess the natural and cultural resources of a tract of land. Indeed, it is a common problem that plagues master planning in Eastern North America. Recreation and access often trump education and conservation. Master planning for Biscuit Run Park, south of Charlottesville, had a very limited environmental review period, and significant resources were overlooked. One of those is directly in the path of destruction at the proposed site for park entrance and parking (along route 20 south). The small prairie remnant at the site (pictured here) has over 100 native species in a small study area, and the mix of species includes “conservative” plants that may take hundreds of years to self-assemble and establish. We’ve been working with County and State officials to conserve this last bit of what was a 50+ prairie that covered the hillside up until about 2007 (now it’s a thicket woodland, hiding a prairie seedbank!). We are receiving wonderful cooperation from the County and State, and have hope that it will lead to the consideration of a more extensive assessment of the property, as rare and remarkable species and habitats have been overlooked.

Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum) in a vernal pool along the Rivanna River. Image by D. Floyd

Marbled Salamander Report. CUH staff, Jessie Wingo, reported a new population of breeding marbled salamanders along the Rivanna river this week. This is the third confirmed breeding site in the Central Virginia Piedmont. Observations like this lead to coordinated education and conservation efforts, especially in at-risk habitats like vernal pools. In the coming year we hope to create more education information about the marbled salamander and the other animals that utilize vernal pools.