Conserving viewsheds for future generations

By the Piedmont Environmental Council

Virginia landowners have been permanently preserving and protecting their rural land with conservation easements since the late 1960s. As a result of 50 years of collective action, the Commonwealth can now boast that over one million acres of private land have been protected with easements.

By John McCaslin

Further, Virginia’s northern Piedmont surrounding Rappahannock County is one of the most highly conserved areas in the state, with more than 401,200 acres protected. This success would not be possible without the conservation ethic held by thousands of landowners who made a commitment to protecting their land.

We are also fortunate there are state and federal tax incentives that help landowners wanting to conserve their land. At the federal level, the U.S. Congress has consistently recognized the benefit to local communities of donated conservation easements.

In 2015, they permanently expanded the rate and time that easement donors can use their allowed federal income tax deduction. Further, the changes to the federal tax law that took place at the end of 2017 did not impact the deduction available for easement donors.

At the state level, Virginia has long been a conservation leader by offering a Land Preservation Tax Credit for landowners who permanently protect their property with an easement. In fact, Virginia offers one of the most generous state tax incentives in the nation. Local residents are eligible to receive a tax credit that is equal to 40 percent of the value of their donation, and they can transfer or sell the tax credit to other Virginia income tax payers.

The Piedmont Environmental Council collected the annual data for land protected in Albemarle, Clarke, Culpeper, Fauquier, Greene, Loudoun, Madison, Orange and Rappahannock counties by landowners working with land trusts and public agencies, and the total is now 401,200 acres. This includes 6,237 acres from 2017.

“Conservation helps protect our local food supply, secure sources of water for the future, provide areas for wildlife habitat and preserve important historic and cultural sites,” says Chris Miller, President of PEC. “People love the rural character of the region and protecting the land is a way for them to take action and ensure that future generations will enjoy the same benefits.”

An easement is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and a conservation organization (such as a public agency or a non-profit land trust like PEC) to permanently protect natural, scenic and cultural resources on their land.

“Through programs like Virginia’s Land Preservation Tax Credit, there is a set of financial incentives that make it possible for landowners across the state to act on their love of the land through the donation of a conservation easement,” says Michael Kane, director of conservation at PEC. “The success of conservation in the Piedmont highlights the commitment families and other landowners have to the long-term protection of our region’s special places and resources.”

— For more information on land protection and conservation easements in Rappahannock County, visit www.pecva.org

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