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January, 2009

Conservation Easements Added In Two Counties

The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) recorded two conservation easements in Loudoun and Rappahannock counties. The easements ensure limited future development, or no development, on more than 200 acres of forest land.

In Loudoun, the Sanford LLC granted to the VDOF a working forest easement protecting 101 acres on property, locally known as the “Big Woods,” east of Lucketts, Virginia. The Sanford property is fully forested and represents one of the largest unfragmented forest parcels in the area.  The easement merges two tax parcels into a single property that limits future development.  The property may be divided only once in the future and at least one of the resulting parcels must be a minimum of 90 acres, preserving a majority of the large forest block.

In Rappahannock, a working forest easement will protect more than 124 acres on Jefferson Mountain, northwest of Amissville, Virginia. The easement merges four tax parcels into a single property that may never be divided in the future, conserving a large block of forest land in perpetuity. This easement means that 27,229 acres, almost 20 percent of the private land in Rappahannock County, is now protected by conservation easements.

Large blocks of forest land are critical to sustainable forest management, interconnected wildlife habitat, and the flow of other ecosystem services, such as improving water and air quality and carbon sequestration.  Unbroken forests also enhance the overall quality of life of the local residents.

A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a government agency or a non-profit conservation organization that protects the conservation values of a property.  Most easements place permanent limits on the future development of the property to protect these values. The landowner continues to own, use and control the land.

Mike Santucci, VDOF forest conservation specialist, said, “Virginia is losing more than 27,000 acres of forest land annually to conversion, and that rate is increasing. Loss of forested acres and the fragmentation of the remaining acres reduce the potential of the forest to provide the economic, social and ecological benefits that we depend on.  This continues to be one of the most significant threats to the forest resource in Virginia, especially the northern Piedmont.”

The VDOF conservation easement program is the only one in the state that focuses solely on protecting working forests.  To be considered, a property must be at least 50 acres in size; 75 percent forested, and the landowner must be willing to have a forest stewardship management plan prepared. Landowners who want to ensure that their land will be forever maintained as forest may consider a VDOF easement.

The VDOF is negotiating easements on three other properties in Loudoun County that total more than 700 acres.

Burn Safely To Manage Forests

Fire is a useful tool in managing forested property, whether to perform site preparation; to control hardwoods within a pine stand, or to reduce wildfire hazards on a tract. Using fire under controlled conditions to achieve such a goal is known as “prescribed burning,” and the VDOF assists those who want to learn to use fire safely.

The Certified Prescribed Burn Managers' Program is a three-day workshop designed for landowners, contractors, natural resource managers, consultants and farmers. Students attend sessions on fire behavior; environmental effects of fire, and smoke management. Those who successfully complete the training will become certified under the program.

The Certified Prescribed Burn Manager Course will be held January 13-15 at the VDOF Central Office Training Room in Charlottesville. Interested students can register online to take the class.

2008 Ends With Record Fire Numbers

Fire officials with the VDOF closed 2008 with a review of the year's fires. The agency logged 1,322 fires that burned 25,704 acres. Sixteen homes were damaged during the year.

Virginia saw the worst fire day in memory Sunday, Feb. 10, 2008. High winds across the state whipped up 354 fires that burned more than 16,000 acres.

“These numbers set a record for Virginia,” said John Miller, Virginia Department of Forestry's director of resource protection. “So much of wildland firefighting is weather-dependent, and the combination of high winds, low humidity and the lingering drought created the perfect fire storm that day. We hope there won't be another one-day record-setter this year.”

Debris burning and improper disposal of hot ashes increase the risk of wildfires during the winter months, when low humidities combined with plentiful dry grass and leaves can provide fuel to help escaped fires spread quickly.

Miller reminds everyone that just because the “official” spring fire season won't start for another month, it doesn't mean that wildland fires can't still occur - they can. So continue to take great care anytime you use fire in or near Virginia's woodlands. For more information, log on to www.dof.virginia.gov or www.firewisevirginia.org.

Carbon Trading and Ecosystem Service Markets

Hybrid vehicles are a visible way for citizens to limit their use of fossil fuels and reduce the “carbon footprint” of their lifestyle. This “green” initiative also occurs on a larger scale in governments and countries around the world, where a value is placed on the benefits of the environment. In Charlottesville, a two-day conference will explore the design and implementation of ecosystem service markets and the development of tools to enhance landowner participation in these markets.

The first day of the conference will feature a series of speakers giving a broad, national-level overview of ecosystem service market considerations and initiatives. The second day will feature a series of three panels: Carbon; Water Quality (nutrient trading), and Mitigation Banking. An interactive question and answer session will follow the panel presentations.

“Attending this conference will ensure a better understanding of how ecosystem service markets function and what opportunities exist for landowners,” said Buck Kline, manager of ecosystem services for the VDOF. “Industry, government, non-governmental organizations, academia and Virginia landowners will all benefit from the information presented.”

The conference will be held March 12-13, 2009 at the Omni in Charlottesville. Learn more about the conference and register to attend online at http://www.cpe.vt.edu/esmes/index.html.