Virginia receives a myriad of economic benefits from its natural resources in the form of market products, non-market services, and added value.
Using a value transfer approach, this study leverages the results of pre-existing studies to quantify the estimated annual contribution of nine such natural services – water quality, water supply, pollination, recreation, forest products, farm products, disturbance prevention, habitat, and carbon sequestration – to be approximately $21.8 billion.
The following text is based off of a January 2017 joint letter from the Valley Conservation Council, Shenandoah Valley Network and The Piedmont Environmental Council. The letter was mailed to conservation easement holders, but the content is relevant to all Virginians.
A decision is being considered that could have a profound and lasting effect on the integrity of conservation easement programs in Virginia.
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) is being aggressively pressured by Dominion Resources, Inc. to allow the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) to cross a block of properties held in conservation easement. The ACP is a high-pressure gas pipeline that would extend across Virginia, from West Virginia to North Carolina. If allowed, this pipeline would be the largest intrusion onto protected properties in the 50-year history of Virginia’s conservation easement program.
On February 9, 2017, VOF is scheduled to consider Dominion’s application to permanently impair conservation values on 10 VOF easements in exchange for other conservation lands. Virginia state code (Va. Code Ann. §10.1-1704) provides very narrow provisions for such exchanges, requiring that the proposed project be “in accordance with the official comprehensive plan for the locality” and “essential to the orderly development and growth of the locality.” The proposed gas transmission pipeline meets neither requirement.
The Virginia General Assembly will kick off on January 11, 2017, and with a budget shortfall weighing heavily on the minds of our legislators, a lot of cuts are being discussed. Of particular concern is HB 1470, which would substantially reduce the tax incentives for land conservation.
We are excited to announce that Congress recently passed legislation to permanently enhance the federal income tax deduction for the donation of a conservation easement. The new law allows conservation easement donors to deduct their donation at the rate of 50 percent of their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) per year, and they can carry forward any excess contribution for as many as 15 years. Further, a qualified farmer can deduct their easement donation at the rate of 100 percent of AGI per year, potentially paying no federal income tax for the next 15 years.
UPDATE: On Feb 12, 2016, the Virginia Supreme Court issued a ruling in Wetlands America Trust, Inc. v. White Cloud Nine Ventures, L.P. The decision by the Virginia Supreme Court affirms the validity of perpetual conservation easements in the Commonwealth. Troublingly though, the court clarified the standard of review for conservation easements as “strict construction,” which means the presumption on any ambiguity will be a finding in favor of the “free use of land.”
At a practical level, the ruling will impact how land trusts steward current easements and underscores the importance of specificity in the drafting of future easements.
This year, the General Assembly passed an important and exciting bill related to land conservation in Virginia -- a bill that would help fund programs that protect working farms, drinking water supply areas, battlefields and lands for public recreation. But time is running out for Governor McDonnell to sign the bill into law. Find out more in PEC's March 21, 2013 Email Alert.
Our Land Conservation Staff work throughout the Piedmont.