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January 2010

Conservation Easements Offer Holiday Gifts to Commonwealth

Two conservation easements finalized in December preserve almost 400 acres in Virginia. Mike and Evelyn Walker donated to the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) a working forest easement protecting 230 acres on Taylors Hill, east of Berryville, in Clarke County. In Amherst County, Sam and Janis Roskelley granted to the VDOF a working forest easement protecting nearly 150 acres along Long Branch just north of Allwood.

For 2009, these donations bring the total number of easements to 13, with a total of 5,703 acres preserved.

The Walker tract is nearly entirely forested and contributes to a large, unfragmented forested acreage on the western slopes of the Blue Ridge crest. Much of the property is visible from the Shenandoah River and River Road, greatly contributing to the scenic viewshed of the area.  Several streams originate on the property that flow to directly into the Shenandoah River, helping safeguard its water quality and aquatic habitat.

“Evelyn and I wanted to perpetuate the natural elements of this property,” said Mike Walker. “We wanted to do what we could, in some small way, to help protect the landscape for future generations. Our property is completely forested, so when we found out about VDOF's conservation easement program, it seemed like a natural fit. The entire process has been much simpler than anticipated, and it has been a pleasure working with the VDOF.”

Initial easement information and the various conservation options were presented to the Walkers by Don Loock of the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the area's rural economy, natural resources, history and beauty.

The Roskelley Property is 90 percent forested and contributes to a larger, unfragmented forested acreage in the area. Approximately 3,750 feet of Long Branch, a major tributary of the Buffalo River, flows uninterrupted through the tract, helping protect the water quality and aquatic habitat within the watershed.

“I grew up in Northern Virginia and I've seen a lot of the Virginia I once knew fall to development. We wanted to make a small contribution to preserving what is left. The vision we had for our land fell right in line with the objectives of the Department of Forestry, so it was a good match. I hope this land will be in my family for generations and always stay pretty much the way it is now,” said Sam Roskelley.

The Roskelley easement was initiated by the Central Virginia Land Conservancy (CVaLC), a non-profit conservation organization that promotes the stewardship and conservation of Central Virginia's forests, farmlands, waters and other natural and historic resources.

“We are very appreciative of these donations and the landowners' desire to sustain the forest land base in perpetuity,” said Mike Santucci, VDOF forest conservation specialist. “It's a pleasure to work with folks who have as solid a commitment to protecting natural resources, and to be able to help them meet their long-term conservation goals. We are also thankful for the opportunity to contribute to the longstanding and successful conservation efforts in Clarke and Amherst counties.”

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. The landowner continues to own, use and control the land. A working forest easement protects forest values and benefits by assuring sustainable forest management practices will run with the property in perpetuity, providing continuous supplies of forest products and environmental services, such as clean air and water, wildlife habitat and scenic values.

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.

Grant Award to Support Conservation Education

VDOF has been awarded a Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund grant in the amount of $3,560 to create a "Learn and Play area" at the Virginia Forest Education Center at New Kent. The goal of the Learn and Play area is to engage children with nature and foster their development through unstructured play. All field trip groups for preschool through upper elementary youth will be encouraged to schedule time in this area as one of their learning stations, when they visit the center for educational field trips. 

Ellen Powell, VDOF conservation education coordinator, said, “Children will get a much-needed opportunity to play outside, and the play area will enable us to stretch our limited staff resources. With each teacher or leader supervising his/her own group in the play area, our educator can work with more students on each field trip.”

The funding will be received later this year, and the Learn and Play area will be developed and ready for use soon thereafter.

Tax Info Available

You can stay current on tax changes and related information courtesy the “Tax Tips for Forest Landowners for the 2009 Tax Year.” This annual publication from the U.S. Forest Service covers topics such as cost-share payments, selling timber and timber basis, with examples in each category. You can find these tips and much more on our Tax Information Web page.