Audubon Naturalist Society testified in front of the Fairfax County Environmental Quality Advisory Committee during a public hearing seeking community input on environmental priorities.

On January 12th, 2016 – Monica Billger, Virginia Conservation Advocate of the Audubon Naturalist Society testified in front of the Fairfax County Environmental Quality Advisory Committee during a public hearing seeking community input on environmental priorities. Her testimony is shown below: “Thank you for your service to our community and for giving concerned citizens, organizations, and businesses the opportunity to speak with you today. I would also like to express my deep appreciation for all the effort that goes into creating The Annual Report on the Environment. It is a valuable resource for citizens and organizations in the county and beyond. I’m here tonight as a concerned Fairfax County resident, as well as the Virginia Conservation Advocate for the Audubon Naturalist Society, the oldest independent environmental organization in the Washington region. A pioneer in linking conservation activities with environmental education – ANS is committed to remaining “on duty” in Fairfax and NOVA in advocating for local clean water protections, building on the huge foundational work done over the years by Stella Koch. * ANS programs and community outreach efforts in Virginia are dedicated to supporting/ensuring the success of the Fairfax County stormwater permit program. * ANS believes continued funding for stormwater retrofits – to implement the County’s MS4 stormwater permit – is crucial. This permit requires 30 retrofit projects to be completed by 2020.  We stand ready to continue to support robust funding and public engagement. * In supporting the implementation of the 30 watershed plans, ANS will be engaging citizens through a multi-year, layered effort throughout Fairfax County. Our targeted approach correlates with the division of Human Services Regions. Our community outreach, grassroots advocacy and environmental stewardship program (Communities for Clean Streams) will pilot within Region 1 this year. Many organizations and environmental activists today lament what appears to be a decrease in activism and a homogenous body of traditional environmental groups. There is a drive to increase outreach and to diversify the environmental advocacy community. But I ask, how can we connect individuals with the environment and diversify our advocacy community when urban neighborhoods and schools lack adequate tree cover, woodland parks, and other natural areas? Within the county there exists a visible discrepancy between median income areas and outdoor/environmental connectivity. Schools within higher income communities are developing outdoor learning centers and pursuing green curriculum, yet those in lower income areas often have limited outdoor learning opportunities, if any. The negative impact of decreased access to outdoor exploration, education, and recreation has ramifications far beyond environmental literacy. ‘The term “nature-deficit disorder” was coined by author Richard Louv in his book “Last Child in the Woods” to describe what happens to young people who become disconnected from their natural world. Louv links this lack of nature to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression.” Recommendation I. * ANS strongly recommends the county implement the natural landscaping policy on county and public school properties as outlined in a 2005 report at the direction of then-Chairman Gerry Connolly. Implementing this policy would increase the capacity for ALL schools in the county to provide outdoor learning opportunities, not just those in more affluent communities. Natural landscaping would also improve stormwater management as well as a host of other ecological services. Recommendation II. * ANS believes Fairfax County’s tree canopy is a vital county asset that reduces stormwater runoff, improves air quality, reduces the county’s carbon footprint, enhances quality of life, contributes to savings on energy bills, and serves as habitat for wildlife. For these reasons, we strongly urge the county to update the tree action plan by strengthening the tree ordinance and canopy goals. Recommendation III. * Maintaining a healthy environment is central to increasing quality of life. Poor environmental quality has its greatest impact on people whose health status is already at risk. For a more comprehensive view, environmental status reports should also address the societal and environmental factors that increase the likelihood of exposure and disease and improve health and wellness. ANS would like to see additional information in the The Annual Report on the Environment that correlates public health information with environmental data (i.e. increased asthma incidence in areas of high development/low tree canopy). It would also be beneficial if an EQAC member was able to represent public health interests as they relate to the environment. Recommendation IV. * Currently SLAF is zeroed out in the Governor’s budget. We are asking EQAC to encourage a patron to put forth a budget amendment asking for $50-million annually for the next two year (2016/2017). The Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF) provides matching grants to local governments for the planning, design, and implementation of stormwater best management practices that address cost efficiency and commitments related to reducing water quality pollutant loads. Fairfax County received approximately $4.5-million in funds in FY2015, with an additional half million provided to Fairfax City. This is a critical program for localities. V. Final Point of Interest/Concern: Fort Belvoir has issued a Supplemental Environmental Assessment for a proposed housing plan that would account for a loss of 31 vegetated acres. It would also increase impervious surface in a region categorized by Fairfax County as a watershed protected area. In accordance with comments from Catherine Ledec, President of Friends of Huntley Meadows, we respectfully request the county work with Fort Belvoir in order to receive a full environmental impact statement for the proposed project. Thank you for your time and consideration.”
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