Forestry and Natural Resources Plan Adopted by County Board

Published on December 16, 2023

trees

During their regular meeting on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023, the Arlington County Board unanimously voted to adopt the Forestry and Natural Resources Plan (FNRP), which provides guidance for the conservation and integrated management of Arlington’s natural resources and ecosystems across public and private property. 

The FNRP realizes a priority action of the 2019 Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP) to combine the Urban Forest Master Plan, last updated in 2004, and the Natural Resources Management Plan, last updated in 2010.

"I am grateful for the hard work and dedication that our staff, commissions and advisory groups, and community have contributed to the development of the new Forestry and Natural Resources Plan," Board Chair Christian Dorsey said. "This holistic approach emphasizes the need to prioritize the health of our natural landscape, realizes opportunities on both public and private land, fosters stewardship to help enhance our collective impact, and identifies creative ways to make nature accessible for all in Arlington."

Elements of this unified approach include: 

  • inclusion of recommendations for conservation on private property for the first time;
  • a new focus on racial equity and environmental justice as it relates to climate, tree canopy coverage, and access to nature;
  • a collaborative, community-focused approach to conservation emphasizing education, volunteerism and incentives that reach beyond the scope of traditional environmental regulation; and
  • recommendations and implementation of biophilia in Arlington.

MORE: Read the Full Forestry and Natural Resources Plan

 As a new stand-alone element of the County’s Comprehensive Plan, the FNRP establishes how the County can help address many of the same intersectional environmental issues set as priorities in other elements of the Comprehensive Plan, including the Community Energy Plan (2013), the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Plan (2023) and the PSMP.

About the Plan and Strategic Directions

The FNRP is a comprehensive, long-term planning tool that outlines over 80 policy recommendations organized into four interconnected Strategic Directions:

  • Conservation: Increase and protect tree canopy, natural areas and biophilic features throughout the County.
  • Climate Mitigation, Adaptation and Resilience: Ensure Arlington’s natural assets protect public health and well-being.
  • Biodiversity: Sustain vibrant landscapes for people, plants, and wildlife.
  • Operations: Manage organizational resources for maximum return.

Each Strategic Direction sets high-level policy goals and articulates concrete steps towards achieving them. The plan prescribes actions for each strategic direction that are further guided by operational tasks that the County can take to move the policies forward. These recommendations are supported by several appendices, which include additional detail and analysis that provide context for the plan’s vision.

  • The plan emphasizes 10 Priority Actions for the coming years, including:
  • Reestablish and maintain at least 40% tree canopy County-wide through conservation and tree planting programs tailored to local conditions and ecological contexts.
  • Ensure 70% of Arlington’s trees are Regionally Native by 2035.
  • Advance urban forestry and natural resource goals through County public spaces acquisitions.
  • Seek legislation at the state level that authorizes Arlington County to develop locally appropriate policies to conserve and manage its natural resources.
  • Enhance development standards to optimize retention or replacement of tree canopy, natural vegetation, permeable surfaces and biophilic elements.
  • Build on existing partnerships to recruit and train community, cultural and faith-community leaders to serve as nature ambassadors and proponents of grassroots conservation.
  • Direct resources to neighborhoods underserved by existing tree canopy, ecosystem services, or access to natural areas.
  • Adopt a native plant requirement for public and private sites to expand use and retention of local and regionally native plants.
  • Establish a County-wide natural infrastructure and conservation connectivity network.
  • Move from “Reactive” to “Proactive” maintenance of publicly owned natural assets, outside of extreme storm events and other emergencies.

Developing the Plan

The latest round of community engagement opportunities took place between June and July 2023. Participants got to explore and weigh in on the latest draft’s Strategic Directions, Priority Actions, and an Implementation Framework which all help create and execute a path towards realizing the vision of a greener Arlington. Feedback was generally supportive of the latest draft and approach, mainly encouraging adding more urgency around the need for more implementation funding, progress reporting and overall tone of this important topic. Feedback has helped inform the most recent edits, which can be found in the meeting recording and presentation to the County Board.

Next Steps

The Implementation Framework outlines the plan for moving each of the plan’s recommendations forward, identifying responsible County agencies, potential partners, and funding sources, as well as planning-level cost and time frame estimates.

Currently, staff is working to develop an approach to regular reporting of implementation progress. This will likely be done through NRJAG, drawing on the successful model of PSMP implementation reporting through the Public Spaces Master Plan Implementation Advisory Committee (PSMP-IAC).

The Department of Parks and Recreation continues to implement and engage around intersecting priorities including a recent amendment to the Arlington County Code that encourages more native plantings on private property, the ongoing Deer Management Project, and an upcoming tree canopy study.

To learn more, visit the Forestry and Natural Resources Plan webpage.

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