Rappahannock landowners placed nearly a thousand acres of land into conservation easements in 2015, according to a Piedmont Environmental Council report released last week. The addition of 979 acres last year brings the total county acreage in easements to 32,345.
The PEC reports that a combined total of 11,517 acres were protected in Albemarle, Clarke, Culpeper, Fauquier, Greene, Loudoun, Madison, Orange and Rappahannock Counties, last year.
“Almost 60 landowners and families last year made an investment in their communities by donating conservation easements that will ensure future generations be able to experience the history and beauty of our rural landscape,” said Michael Kane, director of conservation at PEC.
A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and a land trust (such as a public agency or a non-profit conservation group like PEC) to permanently protect natural, scenic and cultural resources on their land.
One of the conservation highlights in 2015 was The Ellis Mine easement in Culpeper County. The 1,219-acre forested property borders the Rappahannock River, and it was named after the significant gold mining that occurred there in the late 1800’s. In addition to the land’s rich forestal values, the easement protects 1.5 miles of frontage and 25 acres of floodplain along the river.
“This large working forest easement was particularly desirable for conservation because in addition to providing the common woodland benefits of wildlife habitat and wood products, it protects the water supply of Fredericksburg and several historic sites and structures,” said Larry Mikkelson, acquisition and easement coordinator for the Virginia Department of Forestry.
This past December, Congress passed legislation that makes permanent the enhanced federal tax incentive for the donation of a conservation easement. The incentive grants certain tax benefits to landowners who donate an easement. Such agreements permanently limit uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. Though, landowners retain the right to farm, hunt, lease and sell the conserved property, subject to the terms of the easement. As private land, property under easement remains on county tax rolls, supporting local public services.
“Whether to protect the best farm soils, protect water quality or preserve important historic sites, land conservation has proven to be an effective and efficient program,” said PEC President Chris Miller.