More than 6,500 acres in The Piedmont Environmental Council’s nine-county service region were permanently protected by conservation easements in 2014. This brings the total acreage of land under conservation easement in the region to just over 375,000 acres.
The total includes 116 new acres of conservation easement-protected land in Rappahannock County, bringing the county’s total acreage in easement to 31,366 — but representing a significant decrease in the number of protected acres from the previous two years. In 2013, Rappahannock landowners protected 825 acres and 1,100-plus acres in 2013.)
Last year “saw the permanent protection of 60 different properties. Every conservation easement is different, but each protects specific conservation values that provide a broad benefit to the public — like working farms and forests, or historic, cultural or scenic resources,” said Chris Miller, president of the PEC, which serves Albemarle, Clarke, Culpeper, Fauquier, Greene, Loudoun, Madison, Orange and Rappahannock counties. “Protecting these conservation values provides all residents of Virginia with fresh local food and a thriving rural economy, clean air and water, and an amazing natural environment to enjoy.”
Last year, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation conducted a survey of 631 landowners with land under conservation easement, and they determined that “90 percent of those landowners are managing their protected lands for agricultural production or forestry.” Also, “73 percent said the protected land was either important or essential to their livelihoods.” Lands protected by conservation easements in the Piedmont last year, such as Ivy Hill Farm in Clarke County, help protect our vital agricultural industry.
One of the conservation highlights in 2014 was the protection in the Goose Creek Rural Historic District of over 186 acres of farmland that was owned by the late Dr. Joseph Rogers, of Hamilton. Instrumental in creating the historic district, Rogers was a well known Loudoun County farmer, accomplished equestrian, and avid advocate for rural land conservation. Rogers had conserved more than 900 acres of his family’s Hillbrook Farm during his lifetime and, after he passed away in March 2014, his family donated another conservation easement preserving the additional farmland. With the most recent donation by the Rogers, more than 2,765 acres or 31 percent of Goose Creek Rural Historic District’s scenic and historic landscape has been permanently protected by conservation easements.
When it comes to the tax incentives available to landowners who voluntarily give up their development potential, the VOF’s survey also revealed “that landowners are reinvesting tax credits back into their businesses.” And that “61 percent of landowners used the credits to sustain, expand, or start a new agricultural or forestry operation.”