New Report Shows VA Leading Southeast in Voluntary Land Conservation

A new report from the Washington, D.C.-based Land Trust Alliance reveals that land trusts in Virginia conserved more land between 2005 and 2010 than any other state in the Southeast.

The 2010 National Land Trust Census includes statistics from private nonprofit land trusts, as well as the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, a public land trust created by the legislature in 1966.

According to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, which tracks all land conservation activity in the commonwealth, 314,225 acres were conserved by VOF and 78,678 acres were conserved by private land trusts between 2005 and 2010. That works out to about seven acres preserved every hour.

The Land Trust Alliance census reports that the next-closest Southeastern state was North Carolina, where land trusts conserved about 132,000 new acres during the same period.

The primary tool for land trusts is conservation easements, which are voluntary agreements between landowners and nonprofit or governmental entities that restrict intensive development on open space while allowing landowners to continue to own, enjoy, farm, timber, and sell the property or pass it on to heirs.

Because easements protect public benefits such as water quality, wildlife habitat, and scenic open space, Virginians who donate easements are eligible for federal and state tax benefits, including tax credits through Virginia’s Land Preservation Tax Credit Program.

Earlier this week, at a presentation of a forthcoming report analyzing the effectiveness and efficiency of Virginia’s major tax preference programs, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission cited the Land Preservation and Historic Rehabilitation tax credit programs as the two most effective and cost-efficient programs among those that were evaluated.

Jason McGarvey is VOF's communications and outreach manager. He is based in the Richmond office.