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.