Photo by Amy Johnson

Virginia Working Landscapes (VWL) is a network of partners convened by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) to promote the conservation of native biodiversity and encourage the sustainable use of working landscapes through research, education and outreach. Our goals are to:

  • Create a community network to promote dissemination of information from neighbor to neighbor.
  • Network landowners with state and federal agencies that can provide them with specific technical and financial assistance.
  • Establish and highlight demonstration sites on working farms that showcase best practices for different land uses, agricultural production, and biodiversity management.
  • Advance the science of land management and develop best practices relevant both to working farmers and conservationists.


Virginia Working Landscapes (VWL) is a program of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) located in Front Royal, Virginia. SCBI serves as an umbrella for the Smithsonian’s global effort to conserve species and train future generations of conservationists. 

VWL began in 2010 in response to a strong grass-roots demand from private landowners, conservation NGOs, and citizens for leadership from the Smithsonian on native plant and wildlife conservation in the region, especially on working lands. We partner with a network of NGOs, agencies, regional landowners & citizen scientists to promote the conservation of native biodiversity and sustainable land-use through research, education and community engagement.


Biodiversity is the foundation of healthy working landscapes.


RESEARCH Our team of scientists leads on-the-ground ecological monitoring to reveal how land-use practices impact native biodiversity and how these impacts might influence ecosystem function.

ENGAGEMENT VWL engages with the community through citizen science, education and outreach. Each year, we train and nurture a core of citizen scientist to help conduct biodiversity surveys on private and public lands. We then share findings of these surveys with landowners to demonstrate the diversity of species that our working lands support. We also use this network to facilitate information sharing between landowners, conservation managers and other community members to encourage best management practices for promoting and sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services on working lands.

EDUCATION VWL works closely with partnering organizations to lead public lectures, seminars, workshops and courses that focus on a wide range of conservation topics. In collaboration with the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation, we also support a robust intern and graduate fellow program to train future leaders in conservation science and practice.

The Smithsonian Institution is a 501(c)(3) organization.
To learn more about how to support VWL, Click Here.

Photo by Amy Johnson

Read about our program and how we got started in Warrenton Lifestyle Magazine! 

2018 Annual Report

Click here to view or download the report.

“What better way to help people learn about science than to engage them in the process?” 
David N. Bonter, Ph.D. Assistant Director of Citizen Science, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

From weather reporting to bird counting, the general public has been helping scientists for over a century to collect data and information about our natural world. These citizen scientists (or citizen naturalists) don’t need a degree and don’t need to be trained scientists – indeed, most of them would consider themselves nature enthusiasts who contribute to our understanding of wildlife and the environment by collaborating with professional scientists.

This type of crowd-sourcing has been instrumental in helping scientists to monitor and understand our changing climate. Technology has especially helped to facilitate this process in recent years; GPS units, phones, digital photography and the internet all make public participation in science faster, more accurate, and more widespread. 

Citizen scientist volunteers also benefit greatly from their role in this exchange. They engage more with the wildlife, nature and our planet, which increases their scientific literacy and awareness of critical conservation issues. 

To learn more about citizen science at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), click the button below.

SCBI Citizen Science

VWL and Citizen Science

Since 2009, Virginia Working Landscapes has worked with and trained dozens of citizen scientists to help conduct our Grassland Biodiversity Surveys. During the survey season, the citizen scientist volunteers visit our survey sites where they identify and count different plant, bird, and pollinator species; these data help us to understand how agricultural and land management practices effect biodiversity in grasslands across the region.

To learn about citizen science opportunities with VWL, click the button below.

Become a Citizen Scientist


Our Mission

to combine scientific rigor and community wisdom to help secure a vibrant and healthy future for people and wildlife

The Changing Landscapes Initiative (CLI) is a program of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). We partner with a network of NGOs, agencies, regional landowners and scientists.

Our Team



Our Partners


What Can We Do?

When faced with an uncertain future, our best defense against unwanted outcomes is to plan.

Traditional planning methods simply consider historic trends, narrowing their focus to the most predictable or probable outcomes. Because the future is rarely a perfect reflection of the past, we must use planning tools that consider events that may alter the future in improbable way and unexpected ways.


“The problem with the future is that it is different. If you are unable to think differently, the future will always arrive as a surprise.”
Dr.  Gary Hamel, American Management Expert


How Can We Plan for an Uncertain Future?

The CLI uses Scenario Planning as the framework for our initiative. It is used widely in the business community to respond to the volatility of markets.

Scenarios are stories. Scenarios are not meant to be a prediction of the future, rather they serve to prepare us for those improbable, yet highly impactful events. The Scenario Development process also challenges us to acknowledge our biases, identify our shared values, and address unknowns.


So, What Are We Doing?

The CLI engages community leaders in a Scenario Planning process to produce alternative storylines of the future that will be integrated into our combined understanding of land use change and its impact on ecosystem services.

Our scenario planning process can be outlined in five steps:


What Are Our Scenarios of the Future?

With the guidance of our stakeholders (a group of conservationists, scientists, and regional decision makers) we created four scenario narratives, or alternative storylines of the future. We translated the scenario narratives into visual representations of what the land may look like in 2061.


We integrated details from the four scenario narratives into models to illustrate the differences in land-use change after 50 years.

A scientific model is a representation of a particular phenomenon of the world using something else to represent it, making it easier to understand.


In Scenario 2 and 3, development spreads in a diffuse pattern across a large area, often following major roads. This growth pattern can lead to increased forest/habitat fragmentation.

In Scenario 1 we see development concentrated around cities, but still a higher total development increase than in scenarios 3 or 4

Now that we have created models of our potential future landscapes, we need to understand how the land use changes may impact the ecosystem, as well as the people and wildlife that live in this future. We will explore land use change impacts in terms of:

  • Water Quality/Quantity
  • Biodiversity
  • Monetizing Services
  • Risk Assessment
  • Comprehensive Plans and Zoning


Step 5: Stakeholder Input in the Next Phase

The goal of the next step is to reconnect with stakeholders so they can lend their expertise to evaluate scenario impacts, identify potential strategies or action options, and structure monitoring research around on-the-ground planning and decision-making.


Moving Forward

We will be applying our land use model outputs to ecosystem services like water quality and quantity, biodiversity, risk assessment, and more, providing stakeholders with additional strategic foresight and practical information.

Decision makers can use this information to determine the types of land management policies most likely to provide ecological and economic benefits, in addition to clarifying the trade-offs of implementing various management plans.


Our Vision for the Future

The CLI’s Vision for the Future is to serve as a precedent for strategic planning in a changing metropolitan area—where residents’ cultural values, natural systems, and development exist and occur harmoniously.

Smart land use supports natural disaster control & prevention

Since January 2002, there have been three emergency declarations and 18 major disaster declarations in Virginia; 9 of them include flooding. Between 2010 and 2014, 313 floods caused $25.9 million in property damage in Virginia. Most Virginia residents are familiar with major road washouts and damage to private residences. Conserving land in floodplains protects the wetlands and other natural areas that absorb these potentially flood waters.


Forests protect water and air quality.

Two-thirds of the country’s clean water supply is provided by forests. Large amounts of healthy trees are also vital to producing clean air. The forests of Northwestern Virginia provide residents with spaces for tourism, recreation, and solitude. Our forests are also rich with wildlife, including iconic species such as the black bear, bobcat, endangered Shenandoah salamander, spotted turtles, and barred owls. Forests comprise over half of the focal area for CLI; just under a third of this forested land is protected public land and 7% is protected private land.


Dependence on cropland for agriculture is deeply rooted in Virginia’s culture.

5% of the focal area is cropland with less than 1% protected public land and 8% protected private. There are 46,000 farms in Virginia that provide 311,000 jobs, making agriculture an important part of the economy—even in the most urbanized communities.


Grasslands protect water quality, provide habitat, and boost agricultural production.

Grasses comprise a third of the focal area with less than 1% protected public land and 11% protected private land. These areas capture water and filter pollutants, minimizing contaminants before they reach our surface water supplies. They also provide habitat for native birds and pollinators essential to Virginia’s agricultural production.


Where We Work

The Changing Landscapes Initiative focuses its efforts in Northwestern Virginia within a 15-county region surrounding the Shenandoah National Park

  • The Commonwealth of Virginia’s population size has doubled in just a little over 40 years.
  • There is a projected increase from 7.8 million to 9.8 million by the year 2030.
  • Without strategic planning, expansive unplanned growth can result in the destruction of critical habitats and natural resources, loss and fragmentation of the landscape, disruption of the land’s natural processes and ecosystem services, and reduction of lands for agriculture and forestry - one of the largest economic sectors in Virginia.


VWL is supported by grants and donations and our work is made possible by the generous contributions from our community.

VWL accepts donations by check or credit card.

♦ To donate by check, please write checks out to “Smithsonian Institution” with “Virginia Working Landscapes” noted on the reference line and send to:

Attention: Virginia Working Landscapes
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
Office of Advancement
1500 Remount Rd, MRC 5537
Front Royal, VA 22630

♦ To donate over the phone, please call Cole Johnson at 540-635-6557 with your credit card number.


For further inquiries on how to donate, please contact Cole Johnson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , 540-635-6557

The Smithsonian Institution is a 501(c)(3). All contributions are tax-deductible.


Photo by Amy Johnson

Virginia Working Landscapes (VWL) is a program of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) that promotes the conservation of native biodiversity and sustainable land-use through research, education and community engagement. We partner with a network of NGOs, agencies, regional landowners and citizen scientists. Our goals are to:

  • Create a community network to promote dissemination of information from neighbor to neighbor.
  • Network landowners with state and federal agencies that can provide them with specific technical and financial assistance.
  • Establish and highlight demonstration sites on working farms that showcase best practices for different land uses, agricultural production, and biodiversity management.
  • Advance the science of land management and develop best practices relevant both to working farmers and conservationists.


Virginia Working Landscapes currently conducts surveys in the following Virginia counties:

Prince William



Program Director

Amy E.M. Johnson, Ph.D.

B.Sc., University of Guelph; M.Sc. and Ph.D., George Mason University

Google Scholar Profile

As Program Director, Amy leads a team that cultivates a dynamic network of private landowners, citizen scientists, NGO’s, state agencies and research scientists to collectively investigate the impacts of conservation management and land use on biodiversity. In addition to research, she is committed to developing a strong outreach program that communicates research findings to inform best management practices for regional conservation partners and the community.

A former Smithsonian-Mason Research Fellow, Amy’s Ph.D. research focused on the impacts of conservation and land management on breeding and over-wintering bird communities in Virginia. Specifically, her research is raising awareness on the importance of bobwhite quail conservation initiatives for conserving habitat for a suite of steeply declining species and is also providing insight into the benefits of native warm-season grasses for over-wintering bird communities. An active member of the Loggerhead Shrike working group, Amy also used citizen science data to develop an occupancy model for Loggerhead Shrikes in the southeastern United States. Results of this research are now being used to facilitate state-level population monitoring through citizen science initiatives.

Prior to being awarded the Smithsonian-Mason PhD Fellowship in Conservation Science, Amy received her Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada and a Master’s degree from George Mason University, focusing her research on developing assisted reproductive techniques in wolves.


Outreach and Communications Coordinator

Charlotte Lorick

B.A., Barnard College of Columbia University

Lorick's role as Outreach and Communications Coordinator is to manage relationships and serve as a key liaison with VWL’s dynamic network of citizen scientists, landowners, collaborating organizations (including state agencies and NGOs) and the public. Her focus is to promote VWL’s program mission on multiple platforms (online and offline), diversify the program’s audiences, expand its reach and share the progress and results of VWL’s research with a wide community to inspire conservation action. To accomplish this, she designs all graphics and outreach materials, develops the VWL website, creates content that summarizes the program's research for a diverse audience, recruits new landowners and citizen scientists to participate in biodiversity surveys and organizes events, talks and workshops to engage the local community.

Charlotte's interest in sustainable agriculture and relationship building led her to the Smithsonian where she enjoys connecting the scientific community with the general public. She is an outdoor enthusiast and naturalist, and her long-term interest has been in understanding how humans interact with the natural world and how to promote sustainable, regenerative interactions, particularly on working lands.


Survey Coordinator

Joseph M. Guthrie

B.Sc. Centre College; M.Sc. University of Kentucky

As survey coordinator, Joe is the liaison for VWL's network of private landowners, citizen scientists, and partnering organizations. Joe manages 

His work prior to joining VWL includes co-founding the Florida Wildlife Corridor project, a stint working for the National Wildlife Refuge Association, and most recently, as Conservation Biologist staff for the Charlottesville-based landscape design firm, Nelson Byrd Woltz.

Joe earned his master’s degree at the University of Kentucky, completing a thesis based on his work GPS-tracking the Florida black bear across the ranchlands and swamp forests of South-Central Florida. Beginning with his masters research, Joe has devoted his attention to understanding the role private, working farms and ranches play in protecting biodiversity across the Southeastern United States. Joe is a native of Henry County, Kentucky, and now lives in Washington, Virginia.



Virginia Working Landscapes hosts a competitive internship program. For more information, visit our Jobs and Internships page.


Kelsey Schoenemann

B.Sc., Virginia Tech; M.Sc, Queens University

Kelsey will be pursuing her PhD at the University of Virginia beginning Fall 2019. She works with Virginia Working Landscapes (VWL) and the Changing Landscapes Initiative (CLI) to connect VWL's biodiversity data with CLI's land use data to understand how the spatial distribution of land use types (e.g., cropland, forest, development) and other landscape features (e.g., roads and water bodies) impact native bumble bee biodiversity. Her doctorate research will explore links between community/population dynamics of arthropods (especially bees) and land management practices.


October Greenfield

B.Sc., and M.Sc, South Dakota State University


Eric Allen

B.Sc., Radford University



Steering Committee

External Members

Jonathan Duffy, Chair

George Ohrstrom II, Vice Chair

Beatrice Von Gontard, Secretary

Cary Ridder, Treasurer

John Beardsley

John Jacquemin

Stephanie Ridder

Michael Sands

Jocelyn Sladen

Kate Wofford

Internal Members

Amy Johnson

Will Pitt

Cole Johnson

Peter Leimgruber


Science Committee

Amy Johnson, Program Director, Virginia Working Landscapes, Smithsonian

William McShea, Research Ecologist, Conservation Ecology Center, Smithsonian

Thomas Akre, Program Scientist, Working Land and Seascapes, Smithsonian

T’ai Roulston, Entomologist, Blandy Experimental Farm/University of Virginia

Peter Leimgruber, Landscape Ecologist, Conservation Ecology Center, Smithsonian

Joe Guthrie, Survey Coordinator, Virginia Working Landscapes, Smithsonian



Virginia Working Landscapes is dedicated to fostering an ever-growing and dynamic working network, convened by Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia, in cooperation with: the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), Blandy Experimental Farm at the State Arboretum of Virginia, the Virginia Native Plant Society, the Blue Ridge PRISM, Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC), the Virginia Quail Recovery Initiative (QRI), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Clifton Institute, the Blue Ridge Conservation Alliance, Virginia Master Naturalists, the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI), Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), Virginia Native Plant Society, Shenandoah National Park, as well as several local service providers and landowners.


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Virginia Working Landscapes
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
1500 Remount Road
Front Royal, Virginia 22630
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.