The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) recently recorded its first working forest conservation easements in Greene County. Three families granted to the VDOF four separate conservation easements protecting 395 acres on Snow and Hightop mountains west of Stanardsville.
Collectively, the properties are 97 percent forested and contribute to the large, unfragmented forested landscape in the area. These tracts not only complement the many acres of woodland already under easement in the area, but also the large blocks of unbroken habitat contained in the nearby Shenandoah National Park, ensuring a continued and sustainable flow of natural benefits from the landscape.
The forested nature of the properties is critical in protecting water quality and mitigating potential downstream flooding. The easements protect several miles of headwater streams that are primary tributaries of Matties Run and Buffalo Creek, both within the Rivanna River watershed, ultimately contributing to drinking water supplies of downstream communities.
Often, when landowners are contemplating a conservation easement, it means carrying on a woodland legacy and love of the land established by previous family members. Jay Mason is a third generation landowner – the grandson of W. Roy Mason, an Episcopal missionary who served at Mission Home and was involved in the construction of the Hightop Episcopal Mission. The elder Mason’s work developed into a keen attachment to the area, and eventually landownership on Hightop Mountain.
Jay’s primary goal, supported by his wife Kathi, was to carry on his grandfather’s love of the mountains. “My wife and I recognize what a unique piece of property we have, and the responsibility we have to protect it for future generations. It is our desire that the property should continue to contribute to the beauty of Virginia in perpetuity, and the Department of Forestry was the logical choice to help us ensure that it will.”
The Mason property is a 163-acre tract in a single tax map parcel that may never be divided. It shares almost 2,000 feet of property line with Shenandoah National Park, contributing to the large, unfragmented forested acreage on Hightop Mountain. In addition, the property contains one of several source springs contributing to Buffalo Creek, which flows into the Roach River and eventually the North Fork of the Rivanna River.
As landowners consider a conservation easement and the perpetual protection it offers from development, it is most often a family decision. Mike Santucci, VDOF forest conservation specialist, said, “Whether or not to protect the family forest in perpetuity is one of the most elemental decisions they can make. That was the case with the Saunier family. Brothers David and Paul wanted to fulfill their father’s desire to perpetually protect the property, and continue the work he started with the Department of Forestry.”
The Saunier easements on Snow Mountain are comprised of two parcels within a half mile of each other and the Mason easement. Totaling 170 acres, the property may never be more than three parcels, whose future development is restricted.
Paul Saunier said, “The property has been in our family since 1967. David and I grew up appreciating its natural resources and learned the importance of being good stewards of the land. The ability to protect and preserve this land through a conservation easement was an easy decision. Through this conservation easement with the Department of Forestry, we are assured that it will remain protected and undeveloped in perpetuity. A place where future generations can enjoy and nature can flourish.”
David Saunier said, “Our family gained a deep appreciation for the mountain, its resources, people and traditions. We see the increased development that is taking place and changing the face of Virginia’s rural landscape. We wished to do our part in preserving something that has meant so much to our family. It seemed only right to preserve it so that others could have the same opportunities as we have had.”
While not the same length of family history as their neighbors, Bill and Brenda Jones nevertheless have similar sentiments about their land, and the family ties are just as strong. Bill said, “The rural nature of Greene County is what caused us to relocate here from northern Virginia in 1989. We found the mountain setting to be just what we were looking for as a beautiful and quiet place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the DC area. Our son and his wife often visit for the same reasons we originally came to this place. Our conservation easement will ensure that the property will remain intact in perpetuity as it passes to our heirs, and that they can get the same enjoyment from the property that we have.”
The Jones property is 62 acres in size and shares property lines with both Saunier easements. The single tax parcel may never be divided in the future, and the size and location of existing and future buildings is limited to protect the working forest conservation values of the property.
One of those existing structures is a century-old log cabin, the history of which the family appreciates. “We frequently have long-time residents of the county stop by to visit ‘the old home place’ and are always interested in what they can tell us about life on the mountain 50 or more years ago. Our property was farmed into the 1950s with horse-drawn plows, but it has reverted to forestland. Retaining the forested land in the mountains and the surrounding agricultural land on the Piedmont is important to maintaining the rural character that makes this area so appealing.”
Santucci said, “It has been a privilege to work with these landowners on their easements. Most of Virginia’s forests are in the hands of family forest landowners, and how those people feel about their woodlands, how they manage them, and the decisions they make to conserve them ultimately determine the sustainability of our forestlands and the many benefits they provide. I cannot express enough my appreciation to them for their donations.”
The four donations were the result of collaborative efforts by the Blue Ridge Foothills Conservancy (BRFC), Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) and the VDOF, with support from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. The BRFC and PEC are both non-profit conservation organizations dedicated to promoting and protecting the rural economy, natural resources, history and beauty of Greene County and the surrounding area.
All four easements were among the first to receive funding under the VDOF’s Forests to Faucets (F2F) Program. The program is designed to maintain and expand forest cover in the watershed through financial incentives to landowners who undertake forest management and conservation practices, including easements.
“The F2F program offers funding to forest landowners within the watershed who are willing to donate an easement that directly protects water quality and or quantity by permanently retaining forest cover on the landscape” Santucci said. “The ultimate payment amount is determined on a sliding scale based on the property’s attributes and selected easement enhancements, but is often enough to offset most, if not all, of the easement preparation costs.” VDOF will continue to offer the F2F program to other interested landowners through August of 2012 or until funding is exhausted.
For additional information on the VDOF conservation easement program, or the conservation easement portion of the F2F Program, contact Mike Santucci, forest conservation specialist, at (434) 220-9182, or visit the VDOF website at www.dof.virginia.gov.
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