Committee Mission Creep in Albemarle

This morning’s Daily Progress headline “County nature watchdogs face crisis” suggests the survival of a vital committee is in danger.  Nothing could be further from the truth. This is an advisory committee that has strayed far from its original mission and would be best served to be disbanded.

A little history, prior to the formation of the Natural Heritage Committee, The Free Enterprise Forum and others questioned whether the tasks proposed for the committee were appropriate for County government.  The Natural Heritage Committee’s charge (from the Albemarle County website) is as follows:

The Natural Heritage Committee is an advisory committee that maintains the County’s Biodiversity Assessment, advises the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission, and County staff on applying biodiversity information to land-use decision-making, and supports biodiversity education in the County. 

Albemarle County’s July 6, 2005 Executive Summary provides a concise history of the inception of the Natural Heritage Committee:

In November 2001, the Board of Supervisors authorized the creation of a Biodiversity Work Group (BWG), whose charge was to begin the Biodiversity Assessment of the County called for in the Natural Resource and Cultural Assets chapter of the Comprehensive Plan, and to advise the Board on the composition of a permanent advisory committee on biodiversity issues. The BWG was made up of citizen volunteers including local naturalists, professionals in biological and environmental sciences, and experts in environmental education. On December 1, 2004, the Board accepted the report of the Biodiversity Work Group.

On March 2, 2005, the Board authorized the creation of the standing Natural Heritage Committee, a technical advisory group on biodiversity issues, as recommended by the Natural Resources and Cultural Assets chapter of the Comprehensive Plan.

Interestingly on another portion of the Albemarle County website the Natural Heritage Committee defined their mission MUCH more expansively:

 

The mission of the Natural Heritage Committee (NHC) is to maintain and restore the County’s
native biological diversity and provide a healthy environment for the citizens of Albemarle County.

 

In my years of watching local government, this is the largest leap of self importance I have ever seen.  This appointed advisory committee of volunteers is responsible for maintaining and restoring the native biological diversity ?????? 

 

This is a clear example of Mission Creep.  This committee honestly believes (and staff must concur as they put it on the website) that their charge is far greater than anything that has been voted on by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.  In usurping this power, the NHC has diminished their considerable scientific credentials and drifted far from their original mission. 

 

This brings us yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, where this committee in presenting its Annual Report indicated if they did not get additional funding and staff support some of their well qualified  volunteers would resign. 

 

As the Free Enterprise Forum said in 2005, the documentation of Albemarle County’s ever evolving biodiversity is best left to the many qualified science based environmental organizations operating in our region and to the academic sector. 

 

If the NHC wishes to take its ball and go home, Albemarle County would be better off looking to  scientific organizations outside of County government to inform decisions related to biodiversity.

 

 

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One response

  1. Im curious as to why you see

    maintain and restore the County’s native biological diversity and provide a healthy environment for the citizens of Albemarle County.

    as more expansive than:

    The Natural Heritage Committee is an advisory committee that maintains the County’s Biodiversity Assessment, advises the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission, and County staff on applying biodiversity information to land-use decision-making, and supports biodiversity education in the County.

    Or maybe I’m getting that backwards? If I had to take a guess, I would have thought the latter (the formal description of the committee) would be of more concern to the Free Enterprise Forum, since it’s a mandate to guide land-use planning decisions…

    That said, I agree that descriptions of the committee need to be consistent across the county website, and I suspect it’s less a matter of scope creep and more that the website needs some editing and review. Without knowing the intent of the authors I suspect they intended to imply that by protecting biodiversity we also provide “a healthy environment for the citizens of Albemarle County”.

    As for the professional environmental organizations, while some are represented on the committee, most of them like the Nature Conservancy are mainly concerned with issues on a State or National level, so in my experience they don’t really do a whole lot in terms of documenting or providing advice on local biodiversity. Even more regional organizations like the PEC, don’t really do much in terms of evaluating ecosystems and species on a local level. They’re much more involved in things like public policy on growth and development.

    Personally, as a landowner, I think there are many ways that both free enterprise and landowners can benefit from this committee. Not all protection of the environment needs to be done through regulation. Arguably the most effective programs out there are incentive programs, and educational programs. My family, and other landowners, take advantage of many great programs like CREP that both benefit landowners and protect vital habitat.

    I would welcome the Free Enterprise Institutes Forum’s ideas on how we can create more incentives and other programs that benefit landowners and business in Albemarle County while protecting biodiversity.

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