The tidal wetlands management model in Virginia is the product of a
twenty-five year evolutionary blend of legislative policy generation, state
agency overview and development of guidelines, along with local government
implementation. Interest in wetlands at the Virginia Institute of Marine
Science (VIMS), both from scientific and management perspectives, began
in the mid 1960's. This interest paralleled the increased emphasis on environmental
issues in the United States in general, and with an ongoing concern for
the sustainability of commercially important seafood resources in particular
in Virginia. Virginia concerns resulted in the formation in 1966 by resolution
of the General Assembly of a special Marine Resource Study Commission .
In 1967, the Study Commission recommended a special study of the marshes
and tidal wetlands of Virginia. In 1968, the Legislature directed VIMS
to conduct such a study. In December, 1969, the Wetlands Research Section
at VIMS published Coastal Wetlands of Virginia, Interim Report No. 1.
became the basis for public hearings, drafting of the Wetlands Act and
additional research during the years 1970 through 1972. In 1972, VIMS published
Tidal Datum Planes and Tidal Boundaries and Their Use as Legal Boundaries
and Coastal Wetlands of Virginia, Interim Report No. 2. Both
of these documents were used in developing the legal definition
of tidal wetlands in the Virginia Wetlands Act of 1972, which became effective
July 1, 1972.
With implementation of the Wetlands Act and the formation of the first
wetland boards (made up of lay appointees from each locality which adopted
the Wetlands Act) VIMS initiated training and education workshops for board
members, local staff and state agency personnel, as well as interested
federal resource managers. VIMS also produced a management guide for state
and local regulatory personnel entitled, Local management of Wetlands-Environmental
Considerations. At the same time, VIMS wetlands personnel began the
mandated tidal wetlands inventory activity and published the first of the
series of county and city wetland inventories.
With the implementation of the new law by local boards made up of lay
people, VIMS wetlands scientists were increasingly called on to supply
scientific and technical advice within the decision-making process,
as VIMS had done for many years in support of the Virginia
Marine Resources Commission (VMRC). VMRC regulates commercial
and recreational fisheries, and subaqueous bottom, and reviews local wetlands
board decisions. Thus assessments of environmental impact and recommendations
to minimize wetlands and subaqueous losses involved with permit applications
became routine actions.
mandated activities, the Wetlands Group (working cooperatively with the
VMRC) published the Coastal Wetlands of Virginia, Interim Report No.
3, Guidelines for Activities Affecting Virginia Wetlands. This document
was later promulgated by the VMRC and published as the Wetlands Guidelines
for the Commonwealth. In this document VIMS "...identified wetlands by
type..." and described the "consequences of use" of the wetlands, both
activities being mandated in the Act.
VIMS wetlands personnel continue to function as scientific and technical
advisors to the Legislature, state agencies and local wetlands boards.
The unique aspect of the Virginia wetlands management model is the provision,
on a day to day basis, of scientific input and environmental guidance at
all three levels of government by an independent, multi-disciplinary, academic
institution rather than the more commonly utilized executive model. The
Virginia Institute of Marine Science of the College
of William and Mary is mandated by state code to provide the basic
research, educational programs and technical support necessary to buttress
the Commonwealth's tidal wetland regulatory effort, as well as many of
its other environmental programs.
The utilization of an independent technical support group, from a major
academic institution, promotes basic research addressing management questions,
allows analysis and advice to local managers to be based on a regional
perspective and minimizes the risk of scientific input being used to support
a priori decisions rather than being part of
the decision-making process. The independent academic institution model
also allows a multi-disciplinary approach to be utilized to address both
large, highly complex permit applications and geographically broad planning
and resource definition efforts. Independent scientific advice, based on
original research and review of the existing knowledge base, can support
policy development as well as single permit decisions and all actions connected
to the management of the resource. The model also facilitates the immediate
conduct of research projects within relatively short time frames when answers
to specific questions are needed to fill perceived gaps within the formal
In Virginia, the role of science in policy development and decision-making
has been documented through the historical and continuing activities listed