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Federal program targets Virginia landscapes to combat climate change

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(The Center Square) — A Department of Defense-supported program designed to combat climate change came to Virginia on Monday.

The Sentinel Landscape Partnership is tackling two new landscape projects in Virginia abutting its Maryland project, the Middle Chesapeake Landscape. The commonwealth landscapes comprise public and private lands in a swath of nearly three million acres that includes 10 military installations and stretches from Maryland to North Carolina, according to a release by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Three federal agencies – the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior and the DOD – created the partnership in 2013 to “strengthen military readiness, conserve natural resources, bolster agricultural and forestry economies, increase public access to outdoor recreation, and enhance resilience to climate change,” according to the SPL’s website.

The program is aptly named a “partnership,” as it involves not only military land but privately owned land. It supports conservation efforts in the identified states, regions, localities and privately owned landscapes by providing access to federal assistance through “tax reductions, agricultural loans, disaster relief, technical assistance, educational opportunities, and funding for conservation easements,” according to the release.

“Of the 3 million acres in the commonwealth – more than 4,600 square miles of land, rivers, estuaries and shoreline…roughly two-thirds are privately owned,” according to an analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Of the 27 military installations in Virginia, the DOD has deemed seven as “particularly vulnerable” to climate change. Five of the seven are included in the partnership’s commonwealth landscapes, which have been tagged the “Virginia Security Corridor.” One of those is Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval station in the world, currently “experiencing the highest rate of sea level rise on the East Coast,” according to the release.

To date, Sentinel Landscape Partnership has designated 13 landscapes in 13 states for its work, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Between 2012 and 2021, the partnership secured nearly $1.1 billion in funding nationally.

In a release from Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office, he lauded the program’s arrival, saying it will “advance mutually beneficial land-use initiatives that complement Virginia’s military, forestry, agriculture and recreation economies.”

Agriculture and forestry are the first and third leading industries in the commonwealth, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Virginia Department of Forestry. The Department of Forestry will manage the program, according to Youngkin’s office.

The DOD has referred to climate change as an “existential threat” to national security, and through programs like the Sentinel Landscape Partnership, it continues to make efforts toward conservation, military resilience, installation preparedness and improvement of the environment.

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