VIRGINIA BOARD OF FORESTRY

Senate Joint Resolution #75
Public Meeting Summary
Lord Fairfax Community College
July 13, 2004

At a public meeting held at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown, Virginia, on the evening of July 13, 2004, nine Virginia residents spoke in response to the following question:

“What factors, issues, and concerns affect your decision to own, manage, and conserve forestland?”

The comments of the speakers have been briefly summarized and compiled in the following paragraphs. Topics that were addressed by more than one speaker are listed in parentheses.

Taxation

Repeal Inheritance Tax (2). After a landowner dies, the estate tax acts as a disincentive for forestland conservation. The inheritance tax makes it financially prohibitive to pass on forestland from an owner to any number of heirs. This tax is so prohibitive that the heirs will often have to sell the land in order to pay the taxes on the estate. The inheritance tax should be repealed in order to relieve landowners of financial pressure to sell their forestland.

Revise Inheritance Tax. The inheritance tax should be revised - not repealed - in a fashion that raises exclusion for farms and forested lands. Special valuation should be provided to farms and forested lands to provide incentives to maintain these natural areas, but the inheritance tax itself should be retained. It is a valuable source of revenue for the Commonwealth and should be revised to lessen the financial burden for owners of forestland.

Statewide Land Use Tax. Currently, some of Virginia's counties do not allow for land use taxation on forestland. Land use taxation incentives are a valuable tool for private landowners and should be available in every Virginia County. Furthermore, the Virginia land use tax code should be more “forestry oriented” by creating more incentives for private forestland owners.

Tax Cycles. Income from timber sales currently must be claimed on the landowner's tax return in the year of the transaction. This acts as a financial disincentive for forestland owners who harvest timber over a significantly longer production cycle. Income from timber sales should be spread out over a number of years in order to ease the tax burden of forestland owners who harvest timber.

Conservation Incentives

Conservation Easements As Valuable Tools (2). Conservation easements are the only way to safeguard Virginia's forestland into the distant future. They are flexible tools created to match each landowner's individual needs while protecting one of the Commonwealth's most cherished resources. It is important for landowners to “shop around” before deciding on the terms of an easement.

Objection to Provisions of Conservation Easements. The provisions of conservation easements are currently problematic because they are subject to change without the future consent of the landowner. By putting a conservation easement on forestland, the landowner is signing a “blank check” that may bring any number of unforeseeable changes to the terms of the easement in the future.

Objection to Conservation Easement Restrictions. Conservation easements restrict land use operations that provide tangible benefits to the landowner and, more importantly, the public at large. An example given was mining for materials used in the construction of highways and public roads.

Purchase of Developmental Rights. Virginia should consider adopting a statewide Purchase of Developmental Rights (PDR) program to promote forest conservation.

RT Program. On account of its previous success, the Reforestation of Timberlands program should be refunded and reinstated throughout the Commonwealth.

Family Financial Planning. Landowners should be provided with training and information regarding the long-term productivity of their forestland and the financial benefits associated with maintaining working forests. Landowners should also be better instructed in tax planning for the future management of their land.

Local Ordinances/ Zoning

Reserve Areas. Urban development areas including a specified reserve of undeveloped land can act as a useful tool for conserving Virginia's forests. Frederick County has recently instituted such a preservation ordinance restricting development in parts of the area designated as open space. Drawing upon precedent in Washington State, it was also suggested that twenty acre forested lots should have development restricted to one acre while the other nineteen remain as natural forest.

Limit Harvesting (2). Local ordinances are useful for preventing development on forested lands, but these ordinances also make it exceedingly difficult for private landowners to harvest timber and other forest products.

Forest Management

Wildfire Management.Private landowners do not have adequate resources to prevent and fight forest fires. More training and support needs to be given to landowners regarding this issue.

Non-Harvest Buffers. In riparian areas where timber harvesting occurs along a water source, non-harvest buffers should be implemented in order to safeguard the water quality.

Stewardship Plan. Landowners should be strongly encouraged to enroll in Forest Stewardship/Management programs and rework them when necessary. The sustainability of Virginia's forests is related to the number of landowners actively pursuing these long-term stewardship plans.

Acreage Requirements. Land twelve acres or greater was proposed as a minimum requirement for landowners to harvest timber.

Fragmentation (2). Parcelization of Virginia's forests endangers the long-term health and sustainability of the Commonwealth's forest resources. This problem must be addressed in a manner that attempts to tie together adjacent and fragmented patches.

Other Issues

Petition. Virginia's governor should petition the federal government to protect all of the “roadless” forests that have had development restrictions lifted by recent federal legislation.

ATVs. All Terrain Vehicles, known more commonly as ATVs, should be banned from Virginia's forests because they create noise pollution, air pollution, and disturb trailheads.

VDOF Vacancies. The 54 personnel vacancies in the Virginia Department of Forestry pose a threat to the sustainability and future of Virginia's forestland. These positions should be filled and the state legislature must place forest conservation as a priority for the long-term health of the Commonwealth.