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Big Gains Made in Land Conservation Despite Recession

The first census of land trusts in five years found 10 million new acres conserved nationwide since 2005, including 1.1 million acres here in Virginia. Virginia ranked fifth nationally in acres conserved and first overall in the southeast.

The National Land Trust Census, released by the Land Trust Alliance, shows that voluntarily protected land increased 27 percent between 2005 and 2010. In the same time period, local land trusts and state agencies added 1,129,787 acres—a 77 percent increase since 2005—despite a recession that has seen a decrease in non-profit giving and state budget cuts. The census is online at

A total of 47 million acres—an area over twice the size of all the national parks in the contiguous United States—are now protected by land trusts. A greater percentage of the new acreage comes through local and state land trusts like the Western Virginia Land Trust (WVLT).

“Virginia residents value their land, and we are conserving it at the community level,” said Roger Holnback, executive director of WVLT. “Here in Virginia, we are investing in our future with land trusts that ensure clean water, local food and places to play for our children and for generations to come.”

Since 2005, WVLT has permanently protected more than 13,300 acres in its 10-county service area surrounding Roanoke. This includes 11,400 acres in Carvins Cove Natural Reserve—the largest city-owned park east of the Rockies—as well as nearly all of Mill Mountain and properties in Roanoke, Franklin, Craig, Bedford, Floyd, and Botetourt counties. WVLT earned national accreditation by the Land Trust Alliance in 2011, providing assurance of quality and permanence of land conservation, and publicly recognizing WVLT’s ability to protect important natural places and working lands forever.

Virginia’s Land Preservation Tax Credit has encouraged thousands of conservation-minded farmers and other landowners to permanently protect lands essential to Virginia’s rural and agricultural heritage through donations of land or conservation easements. An enhanced federal tax deduction for conservation easement donations has helped America’s land trusts work with farmers, ranchers and other modest-income landowners to sustain a remarkable pace of more than one million acres protected by conservation easements each year.  But if Congress allows this incentive to expire at the end of 2011, fewer landowners will receive tax benefits from the generous donation of development rights on their land.

WVLT has been appreciative of Rep. Bob Goodlatte for being among the 262 House co-sponsors of H.R. 1964, a bill to make this important conservation tax incentive permanent. That’s more co-sponsors than any other tax bill in Congress.  The Trust is hopeful that Reps. Morgan Griffith and Robert Hurt and Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb will join them as co-sponsors of this important legislation.

Other findings of the new National Land Trust Census include:

• There are now 36 land trusts operating in Virginia, including 19 staffed groups and 5 all-volunteer groups.

• Virginia increased their full and part-time staff and contractors 17% in five years, for a total of 130 paid positions in 2010.

• Land trusts in Virginia drew upon the work of 1,305 active volunteers and the contributions of 15,394 members and financial supporters.

• As a signal of the land trust community’s commitment to excellence, there are now five accredited land trusts in Virginia. Together, these five groups have protected 452,053 acres as of 2010.

The Western Virginia Land Trust (WVLT) was formed in 1996 and works to preserve the region’s unique scenic, historic, agricultural, recreational and natural features. WVLT protects more than 15,000 acres of land and 33 miles of streams in 40 conservation easements held by the land trust. The group works in ten counties in the Roanoke region: Bedford, Botetourt, Carroll, Craig, Floyd, Franklin, Henry, Montgomery, Patrick and Roanoke. WVLT is a private, 501(c)(3) non-profit and is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance.

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  1. Just like many controversial agendas in society: Start out voluntary, gently progress to become the normal order of things until they become mandatory. Have you heard of UN Agenda 21 and the Wildlands Project? If you haven’t you need to research them. Throw a couple of other terms in your search like “UDA”, “land trusts” and “smart growth” to flavor the search. It is my personal opinion that land trusts represent the ‘voluntary’ arm of the agenda I am describing. Land owners voluntarily hand over part of their land rights for a conservation easement so they cannot develop on their land. Its the easy way for the agenda to meet its goals. But, what happens in the future when the volunteers begin to dwindle and there is still plenty of land out there that the agenda needs to acquired to satisfy its goals? That is likely when the agenda will legislate incentives differently. This is how many see this playing out: Land owners that have resisted volunteering might be given a choice to either volunteer to put their land in a conservation easement or be gently penalized in some manner. Over time the noose tightens around the non-compliant land owners and the penalties increase. Besides getting a warm fuzzy that they have done a great deed to help preserve their land for future generations I understand that the main motivator is the tax credit. How will the state make up for this lost source of tax income? They’ll either reduce services, etc or they’ll pass the burden onto remaining tax payers.

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