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September 19, 2008

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Friday, September 19, 2008

The state is committed to making sure any budget cuts imposed on the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville are as small as possible, according to state Secretary of Natural Resources Preston Bryant.

Gov. Tim Kaine is pushing to improve the environment throughout Virginia, Bryant said while visiting the museum Thursday. The museum is "front and center" in that effort, he said, because it is the only state agency fully focused on educating Virginians about nature and the environment.

As a result, "we want any impacts (of budget cuts forced on the museum) to be as minimal as possible," he said.

Kaine's administration recently ordered all state agencies - including the museum - to create separate plans for cutting their operating costs by 5 percent, 10 percent and 15 percent. The move came in response to slow economic growth statewide and a decline in state tax collections.

The museum will have those plans ready for the state to consider by the Sept. 26 deadline, said Executive Director Tim Gette.

Gette has "taken this museum to a new level," Bryant said, mentioning its move last year from a former school building on Douglas Avenue into a new, modern building on Starling Avenue five times the size of the old location.

In Southside, the museum is "one of a kind" in terms of support it has received from both lawmakers and residents, Bryant said.

As a result, he thinks the state will be permanently committed to providing the museum as much funding as possible, he said.

Bryant was at the museum to speak to about 165 educators from across the state who attended the Virginia Environmental Education Conference.

About 70 percent of those attending told museum officials they never had visited the Henry County-Martinsville area before, and many said they aim to return to the museum and bring their families, Gette said.

Ryan Barber, the museum's marketing and external affairs director, said the conference was a great opportunity for people from elsewhere to see what the community has to offer visitors.

"Word-of-mouth is the best advertising we can have" for both the museum and the community as tourist destinations, Gette said.

Bryant addressed educators at the conference on how Kaine intends to improve Virginia's environment.

Land conservation is a major focus of the governor's effort. Bryant said the state loses about 60,000 acres a year to new development and about two-thirds of that is "land we don't want to lose," such as forests.

"Preserving open space is important," he said, so that a growing number of

Virginians can have plenty of room for recreation. He noted that the state's population has grown from about 4 million in 1960 to about 7 million and is expected to be about 8 million by the end of this decade.

Since he took office in 2006, Kaine has preserved from development about 275,000 acres, Bryant said, predicting "we will meet a 400,000-acre goal by the end of 2009." He did not elaborate.

Water quality also is important to Kaine, said Bryant, adding that the state has put forth money to help localities upgrade wastewater treatment plants to reduce potentially hazardous emissions.

Agricultural runoff also concerns Kaine, he said, but that is "the tough one" (problem) to fix because "cows don't work like wastewater treatment plants."

Unlike at sewage plants, someone cannot merely "flip a switch" to turn on a better-designed cow, he remarked.

Bryant said the state is contributing funds to help farmers develop best management practices for their farms. Those practices include installing fences to keep cows - and their waste - out of springs and developing methods of raising crops that use less tilling than traditional methods.

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