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Virginia CZM Program: 2016 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

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Virginia, Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage

Project Title:

Inventory of Important Biological Resources in the Chickahominy Watershed

Project Description:

Scientific/ecological field studies are needed in the lower Chickahominy watershed to fill spatial and temporal data gaps. The three counties of the Lower Chickahominy watershed (10-digit HUC – 0208020606) are recognized for harboring some of the most biologically diverse and ecologically significant areas in the Coastal Zone of Virginia.   The Coastal VEVA classifies much of these counties, and especially the Lower Chickahominy corridor itself as very high to outstanding ecological significance. 

The Chickahominy watershed earned these highest ranks in the Coastal VEVA based on comprehensive analysis of terrestrial, freshwater aquatic and estuarine biodiversity and habitat value there.  This analysis was conducted by VIMS, DGIF, DCR-Natural Heritage, and the VCU-Center for Environmental studies, and driven by decades of field inventory data collected and maintained by these partners.  The strength and utility of the Coastal VEVA, as well as other land use and conservation prioritizations (e.g. local conservation plans), hinges on the quality of information used to build these tools.  More comprehensive, current and spatially accurate input data (i.e. locations and health of species populations and natural communities, habitat quality), ultimately enables more informed and impactful decisions to be made from the Coastal VEVA and other tools like it.

The landscape of Virginia’s Coastal Zone is continually changing due to land conversion and climate change stressors such as sea level rise and storm events (i.e. storm surge and flooding in coastal areas).  Naturally, species populations and their habitats respond to this change, as does the distribution of functioning ecological systems and the benefits derived from them for coastal communities.  Understanding the current patterns in ecological systems and their benefits begins with an understanding of the distribution and health of species populations, their habitats and natural communities.  And, to assure that land use and economic development decisions are adaptive and sustainable from a natural resources perspective, those decisions must start with a strong foundation of current scientific data collected in the field.

Data for this region are rich and informative, but there are also significant temporal and spatial data gaps.  For example, temporal gaps are represented in the last observation dates of rare species populations and natural community locations in the study area.  Currently there are 123 natural heritage resources (habitat of rare, threatened, or endangered plant and animal species, rare or state significant natural communities or geologic sites) identified throughout Charles City, James City and New Kent counties.  Of these 123 natural heritage resources, 67 are, or will soon be considered “historic” because they have not been visited or verified, in at least 25 years. 

Once Natural Heritage data enter this “historic” status, they are no longer used to develop other conservation prioritization tools and assessments (e.g. Coastal VEVA).  Thus, with this temporal data gap, about 54 percent of natural heritage data in the study area will not be used to inform future conservation and land use decisions until it is updated.  This study will address this deficiency by targeted field surveys of sites that contain occurrences for the 67 natural heritage resources that are, or soon will be considered “historic”.

This study will help address a key spatial data gap: the lack of sufficient information on the biological integrity of the watershed’s streams. To address this deficiency, we will collect ~40 stream reaches throughout the watershed during the project timeline and compute healthy waters scores for each stream reach.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Christopher Ludwig, 804.371.6206,

Project Status:

10/1/16 - 3/31/18; Project Completed

Final Product:

A Summary of the Inventory for Important Biological Resources in the Chickahominy River Watershed Final Report (PDF) 

Project Summary:

The lower Chickahominy watershed is recognized for harboring some of the most biologically diverse and ecologically significant areas in the Coastal Zone of Virginia. In 2016, The Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program (CZM) provided a Section 309 Coastal Zone Management Program Grant (task 93.02) for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation - Division of Natural Heritage (DCR-DNH) to inventory important biological resources in this watershed to fill biological resource data gaps.

The important biological resources to be inventoried included populations of rare, threatened and endangered plant and animal species as well as significant terrestrial community occurrences.  Only older (1995 or previous) occurrences were included. In addition to conducting surveys for these occurrences, the grant funded the collection of aquatic community information through the collection of fish community data and instream habitat data at stream locations within the Chickahominy watershed. In late 2016, 65 occurrences (48 plant populations, 3 animal populations, and 14 significant natural communities) were identified as well as 40 stream reach sampling locations.

Field work took place in 2017, initiated through contact with landowners to gain access permission. DCR-DNH Ecologists, Botanists, and Zoologists obtained permission to field inventory 39 of the 65 occurrences. During these surveys, 16 of the 39 occurrences (3 plants and 13 communities) were relocated and 5 new occurrences (2 plants and 3 communities) were found. Complete geo-referenced occurrence data were recorded and field work concluded in October 2017. As of May, 2018, this occurrence information has been entered into the DCR-DNH data system known as Biotics.
This information was used to remap DCR-DNH conservation priorities within the watershed and is shared with CZM for use in their data systems.

Virginia Commonwealth University field staff were contracted to complete sampling 40 stream reaches and this was completed by September of 2017. The data obtained will be analyzed to quantitatively determine the relative quality of the stream reaches. 

Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to or


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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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