Virginia is a natural paradise, with pristine beaches, mountains, rivers and waterways like the Chesapeake Bay. Hundreds of environmental nonprofits that run the gamut in size, location and area of focus are working to preserve local environments and ecosystems, all to ensure Virginia’s nature remains accessible for generations. Virginia Conservation Network (VCN) was born from a need to consolidate these organizations into a unified front — a single body that could approach Virginia legislators with a clear, achievable agenda.
What began as a roundtable of a handful of major conservation groups in 1969 has since grown into a coalition of over 150 organizations covering all corners of the commonwealth. As a collective, VCN’s partners tackle four central preservation goals: healthy rivers, clean energy and climate, land and wildlife preservation and land use and transportation reform. Notable VCN partners include the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the James River Association, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter.
The Core of VCN: Its Partnerships
VCN’s day-to-day work follows an annual cycle. Following the General Assembly’s final session in February, work groups convene to discuss newly passed legislation; discuss priorities, recommendations and action items; and print VCN’s yearly publication, “Our Common Agenda.”
Next, the organization pivots to educating and assisting its member organizations. It sends a database indicating VCN’s position on bills, provides talking points and one pagers and workshops organizations’ ideas to ensure they adhere to VCN’s goals. As the next General Assembly session nears, VCN previews the session with members and provides lobbying training.
“Our goal is to highlight and support our partners,” said Nicole Duimstra, VCN’s director of communications and outreach. “We’re an objective educational group pushing the [policies] that are most agreed upon in the environmental community. It’s about trying to make sure we’re all talking the same language, and that we sound coordinated as a conservation group.”
Building Camaraderie Among Partner Organizations
To construct a robust and cooperative network, partner organizations must understand and respect one another. In the pursuit of fellowship, VCN hosts a yearly retreat in one of Virginia’s many national or state parks. This year, the retreat takes place Sept. 26-28 at Pocahontas State Park. The agenda is packed with happy hours, workshops, film premieres and panels, among other team-building and professional development activities.
“We’ll be camping out and finding the opportunity to bond and get to know one another, especially because people might work in different silos or regions of the state,” Duimstra said. “It’s an opportunity for people to reconnect with the nature they’re trying to preserve and protect and to build relationships that will bring our movement closer together.”
Between spring 2022 and winter 2023, VCN lobbied the General Assembly to adopt a preservation tax credit that conserves one million acres of land, expedited Chesapeake Bay cleanup and researched solar energy deployment. One issue high on VCN’s mind for the rest of 2023: protecting the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
RGGI is a cap-and-trade program that restricts carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector and funds flood resiliency and improvements to energy efficiency in low-income housing. It has been under fire by the state government since earlier this year. Duimstra clarified that VCN is prioritizing the RGGI for its intersection with VCN’s mission of uplifting vulnerable populations, the environmental impact of repealing the bill and the issue’s relevance to a broad swathe of VCN partners.
Virginia Conservation Network is always looking for passionate people to attend events, make use of the organization’s wealth of available resources to protect Virginia’s nature and participate in advocacy initiatives like supporting RGGI. Are you interested in helping VCN preserve the environment?