The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) recorded the agency’s first forestland conservation easement in Gloucester County when Dr. Gaylord Ray and his wife, Cindy Ray, developed a conservation easement on 100 acres of Mrs. Ray’s family land known as Rose Hill Farm.
When landowners are contemplating a conservation easement and the perpetual protection it offers from future development, it is most often a family matter because land can often be a family’s most valuable and meaningful heirloom.
Mrs. Ray’s grandmother purchased the property in the early 1960s and lovingly restored the house and landscape over the next two decades. Cindy and Gaylord Ray bought the property in 2000. Because of the many family memories, their attachment to the property, and the desire to keep it undeveloped, the process to develop a conservation easement was begun last year.
“We are proud to have preserved the property in an area that has seen significant development, particularly on Cow Creek Mill Pond,” said Mrs. Ray.
The VDOF has been serving Virginia’s forest landowners for nearly 100 years and, over time, has developed a high level of confidence and trust with local landowners. Dr. Ray said, “Because about 85 percent of the property is wooded, VDOF was a logical choice for us to partner with.”
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a government agency or land trust that permanently limits development of the land subsequently protecting such conservation values as forestry, agriculture, open space and wildlife habitat. No change to ownership of the property occurs. Landowners continue to own, use and control their land, and can sell it or pass it on to heirs. The terms of the easement are perpetual and apply to all future landowners. Easement agreements do not require landowners to provide public access. The terms of the easement are developed between the landowner and the organization that will hold the easement – in this case, the Virginia Department of Forestry.
VDOF Forestland Conservation Specialist Rob Suydam said, “The Department of Forestry was very excited when the Rays contacted us about helping them develop a conservation easement on their family’s land. This beautiful piece of forestland protects the conservation values of forest, farm and open space. In addition, because this property is adjacent to Cow Creek Mill Pond, there are significant watershed protection values attributed to this now-protected land.”
Virginia State Sen. Thomas Norment said, “I commend Dr. and Mrs. Ray for their commitment to preserving this significant property by partnering with the Virginia Department of Forestry. Establishment of this easement will ensure that generations of Virginians will be able to enjoy the natural beauty of Rose Hill Farm."
Virginia loses an average of 16,000 acres of forestland each year. Often, forest converted to other uses, such as residential development, is the result of choices made by individual landowners, who own nearly 80 percent of the forestland in Virginia. VDOF is committed to slowing the loss of valuable forestland to conversion by working with landowners to help them keep their land in forest. For landowners who feel that permanent protection is the right thing for them, their family and their land, VDOF offers its services to help them develop a conservation easement.
The Commonwealth of Virginia has established itself as a leader in land conservation by providing transferable state income tax credits as incentives for landowners interested in protecting their land from development. Because this state tax credit is transferable, many landowners often sell their credits and convert them to cash.
In addition to the Virginia state tax credit, VDOF has just-introduced a special program in Gloucester County called Tomorrow Woods. The land conservation aspect of the Tomorrow Woods program provides funding to assist landowners with the up-front costs normally associated with developing conservation easement. These costs include fees for attorneys, appraisal, forest management plans and title insurance.
For more information about VDOF’s land conservation program and the Tomorrow Woods program, please contact Rob Suydam at 804.328.3031.
A new tool is available for free to anyone with a computer and Internet access who is interested in learning about the effects of changing land use on a particular tract of forest or farm land in Virginia.
The free software program, called InFOREST, was developed by the Virginia Department of Forestry in partnership with Virginia Tech and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries with funding from Dominion Virginia Power and a U.S. Forest Service grant.
“InFOREST will enable city and county planners, landowners or anyone interested in understanding how land-cover changes impact nutrient and sediment loading to our streams and rivers,” said Buck Kline, director of forestland conservation at the Virginia Department of Forestry. “Until now, this kind of information has been available primarily to individuals who are savvy enough to run models. InFOREST is a user-friendly software tool that enables many users to access and run the various models that estimate ecosystem services.”
Program users can do basic mapping and view various layers with InFOREST. These layers include: aerial imagery; topography; streets and roads; watershed boundaries, and a forest conservation value layer. In addition to mapping, users can estimate various ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration from forests and nutrient and sediment runoff from various land covers.
Taking information entered into the program by an individual, InFOREST uses a complex set of models to provide an estimate of ecosystem services associated with a proposed change of land use. Planners, landowners and citizens will be able to better determine how to mitigate any negative impacts that would result if the land use were changed.
Prof. Randolph Wynne at Virginia Tech said, “Using the MEASURES suite of ecosystem services tools developed by Virginia Tech for InFOREST, landowners, managers and diverse stakeholders can estimate the carbon sequestered and the sediment and nutrients delivered to receiving streams using scientifically vetted, best-of-breed models for a wide variety of land use and management scenarios.”
VDOF’s area forester in Spotsylvania County, Tom Snoddy, said, “I recently had an opportunity to look at InFOREST, and I think it will work well for landowners as well as consulting foresters and loggers. As with any new program, there is a learning curve, but I found the features of this program to be very user friendly.”
Karen Firehock, director of the Green Infrastructure Center Inc., said, "InFOREST is an easy-to-use, practical tool that anyone can apply to model different land-use scenarios to reduce pollution impacts. We've used the nutrient and sediment runoff calculator to show developers how to reduce their pollutant loadings by 50 percent and to show counties how to use the tool to help landowners to minimize impacts to drinking water reservoirs."
Lowell Ballard, director of geospatial solutions for Timmons Group, said, “Timmons has been a proud partner in this important project. We believe InFOREST will be of great value to landowners, planners and developers as they work through difficult decisions regarding land use.”