Someone posed an interesting question to me the other day. If all the private landowners in Arlington County were willing to preserve their lands --- through either sale or by conservation easement --- and if I had the necessary funding to protect only ten of those properties, which ten properties would I choose to conserve? In other words, what lands would be on an Arlington “Top 10” list?
While both of the above assumptions place us firmly in a fantasy world, such a mental exercise does force us to examine (and weigh) the different conservation values of each parcel.
Of course, while every law student knows that every piece of property is unique, conservationists must assess why a particular property has more “conservation value” than another. And, unlike a realtor who can compare properties through the common denominator of price, the calculation of conservationists is much more subjective.
For example, is a habitat for rare species worth more than woodlands that provide us with fresh air? Is a property that contains a beautiful view more valuable than natural lands that help supply us with clean water? Can a missing link in a trail network be equated with a parcel containing a specimen tree? And what of those properties that may contain more than one of these characteristics? You can see how difficult it is to choose!
That is not to say that such a process is impossible. In fact, Alexandria developed its own “Top 10” list a while back through the work of a large “Open Space Steering Committee” that was drawn from a wide cross-section of the community.
This group visited lands throughout the City and developed a matrix of standards to judge these properties. Individual Committee Members then assigned a numeric grade depending upon how each property scored for each of the criteria (three points for high, two points for medium, and one point for low). Remarkably, when everything was added up there was a clear division between the top 10 properties and all the rest.
So, can you help me answer the question? What parcels in Arlington would meet your “Top 10” properties for conservation?
Mike Nardolilli serves as President of the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, President of the Arlington Outdoor Lab, and as a Member of the Board of Directors of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.