Letter: Preserving family forest legacy

Few challenges that Virginia’s 373,000 family forestland owners face are more important than the issue of passing the forest on to the following generation. Many forest owners want to preserve their lands but don’t know how to involve family members in their ownership and management.

Of the 15.8 million acres of forestland that cover approximately 63 percent of the Commonwealth of Virginia, nearly two-thirds of these woodlands, or 10.1 million acres, are in the hands of family owners. The forest management decisions made by these landowners play a crucial role in determining the sustained health and conservation of the natural forest systems.

All Virginians rely upon the woodlands not only for the sustained flow of forest products, but for invaluable natural benefits, including clean air and clean water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and overall quality of life.

However, the natural benefits provided by family woodlands are being threatened like never before. The combined forces of flat or declining stumpage values (prices paid for harvesting trees) relative to rapidly escalating land values, unfavorable tax structures and aging forest landowners are bringing about major shifts that have implications on our ability to sustain Virginia’s woodlands.

These forces result in an annual net loss of 27,000 acres of forestland in the Commonwealth. If the trend continues, more than a million acres of Virginia forestland will be converted to other uses by the year 2030. Replacing the natural benefits, provided mostly for free by forests, with man-made technologies would cost hundreds of billions of dollars — a price society is unwilling and unable to pay.

While many landowners I work with know that they want to pass their forestland on to family members, few have taken the necessary steps to make that happen.

The Virginia Department of Forestry, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Piedmont Environmental Council and others are offering a short course on intergenerational forestland transfer. Called “Focusing on Forestland Transfer to ‘Generation NEXT,’” the program is being held Aug. 23 and 30 at the Airlie Conference Center in Warrenton.

By engaging the next generation in effective family communications; describing the estate planning landscape, and providing effective planning tools, family members will be given the information and means needed to minimize tax burdens and ensure continued management of their forest resource, as well as pass their family woodland legacy intact to heirs. Speakers will include legal and financial experts experienced in estate planning as well as natural resource professionals who work with landowners to conserve land and plan the future.

If you need more information about the short course or wish to speak with someone about protecting your forestland, contact the Northern District Forestry & Natural Resources Extension Program at 540-948-6881 or the Virginia Department of Forestry at 434-220-9182.

Mike Santucci
Forestland Conservation Specialist
Virginia Deptartment of Forestry

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