Private lands and public spirit

More info, workshop

Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) and the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District (CSWCD) host a landowner workshop at the Rappahannock County Library at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 27th. The PEC’s Don Loock will be on hand to explain the process of placing your land in conservation easement, and David Massie of CSWCD will explain how landowners can participate in cost- share opportunities designed to help landowners protect their lands water and soil resources through best management practices. Call Loock at 540-522-4222 or email for more information.

Thanks to the leadership of private landowners, conservation easements are adding up to substantially protect whole landscapes and major resources in the county. In Rappahannock, landowners have voluntarily protected more than 8,000 acres of prime productive farmland soils, 2,000 acres along our scenic rivers and 10,000 acres adjacent to scenic byways — plus 132 miles of streams, 225 acres of wetlands and 17,500 acres of forest.

This level of private stewardship continues to make Rappahannock a leader in the state for protecting water, farmlands, forests and habitat, and historic and cultural resources. More than 28,600 acres of land is now in easement in Rappahannock. With enhanced tax incentives available until Dec. 31, 2011, this would be the year to consider joining your neighbors in helping protect the resources that help make Rappahannock such a wonderful place to live.

How do easements work?

Landowners who protect their land with a conservation easement give up some of their rights to develop their property; this provides for the long-term protection of important resources found on the property. Each property and easement is unique but these resources can include productive farmland and forests, wildlife habitat, streams and rivers, historic sites and scenic views from public roads, trails and parks.

While these resources are located on private lands, the benefits derived from protecting them are enjoyed by all. For example, protecting our headwaters streams helps protect clean and plentiful drinking water for our community as well as others communities further downstream, such as Fredericksburg. Protecting land adjacent to the Shenandoah National Park helps ensure the protection of the scenic views enjoyed by all of us in the county as well as visitors to the park.

Detail of map courtesy of Piedmont Environmental Council

Since landowners voluntarily restrict some of their property rights by donating a conservation easement, they are eligible to receive state income tax credits and federal income tax deductions to offset the reduction in property value created by placing limits on development.

Thanks to Congress, conservation-minded landowners now have until Dec. 31 to take advantage of expanded federal income tax deductions for donating a voluntary conservation easement and permanently protecting their land. Landowners donating easements in 2011 are eligible for deductions at a rate of 50 percent of their adjusted gross income (in the past this deduction has been limited to 30 percent); farmers and ranchers can use the deduction at the rate of 100 percent of their adjusted gross income. These deductions can be used for 16 years or until the value of the donation is used up, whichever happens first.

Besides such significantly expanded federal tax benefits, Virginia still has the most generous tax incentive in the nation for landowners who choose to preserve their land with a conservation easement. Conservation easement donors in Virginia are eligible for a Virginia income tax credit that is equal to 40 percent of the value of their donation. This credit can be used to pay their own Virginia income taxes or can be sold to other Virginia income tax payers for cash. The ability to sell these credits is particularly important to landowners who may not have large enough incomes to utilize all the credits themselves.

Another great opportunity available to landowners in Rappahannock, who may be worried about the upfront costs of donating an easement, is the ability to apply for financial assistance such as short-term loans and grants from the Krebser Fund for Rappahannock County Conservation. The Krebser Fund is an entity funded by conservation-minded folks from the community that can provide loans and grants to landowners who are unable to cover the upfront fees required for professional advice in donating an easement. The fund is also able to purchase conservation easements under some circumstances.

1 Comment

  1. Conservation easements are forever and drain the land of all value. While I support preservation and conservation, there are extraordinary serious negative implications. All value is stripped from the land making it virtually worthless and nearly impossible to sell, banks are hesitant to loan on such properties and liability and loss insurance is difficult to obtain based on my experience. Scholars have long since also proven that there are very bad impacts to the environment as a result and forever is a long time with scientific and ecological changes making them unable to survive the test of time. Land owner are heavily burdened, required to beg permission to do anything as well as an invasion of privacy with “monitoring visits” and unforgiving easement language that don’t permit real farming. This is a forever relationship so choose wisely and beware of the PEC that are embroiled in litigation and scandal and google Joel Salatin: “Beware of Conservation Easements” (he can’t even have a dog house). Make sure the organization you are going to be married to forever is rational, sane and stable and not a bunch of enviro-extremist radical wackos wolfs in sheep’s clothing. Good ones are out there

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