The Piedmont View

Spring 2011 Piedmont View

Dear Friends,

In 2010, we reached a land conservation milestone. At 336,000 acres of private protected land, we are now one third of the way to PEC's ambitious vision of the Piedmont Reserve -- one million acres of protected land in our nine-county region.

The people of the Piedmont were pioneers of land conservation -- some of the first people in the country to take up conservation easements as a tool for protecting land. Now, some forty years later, we are still at the forefront.

Jean Scott, 82, of Culpeper County placed her 118-acre tract of land on the Hazel River into a permanent conservation easement in 2010. Mrs. Scott's donation will be an enduring legacy of conservation; a testament to the value of Virginia's natural spaces. Yet, if you ask Mrs. Scott if she considers herself an environmentalist, she will chuckle and, almost bashfully, say, "Well, no. I don't think so."

New conservation totals show that Piedmont landowners permanently protected over 10,500 acres of land in 2010, bringing the total amount of private conservation land in our nine-county region to more than 336,000 acres, which represents 15% of the total land.

Parks and other public lands add another 186,000 acres -- or 8% -- to the region's tally of conservation lands.

"The Piedmont continues to stand out as one of the greatest private land conservation success stories in the nation," says PEC's Director of Land Conservation, Heather Richards. "Because of the leadership that Piedmont landowners have shown, future generations of Virginians will be able to drink clean water from local streams, eat healthy food grown on neighboring farms, and experience the culture and history that were the basis for our great nation."

Most landowners who protected their land in 2010 did so in spite of financial uncertainty, since Congress did not vote until December of last year to maintain the expanded federal tax incentive. With the incentives up in the air, the pace of land conservation across Virginia slowed in 2010, compared to the previous five years, which saw record-breaking levels of conservation.

However, with the expanded federal incentive guaranteed through the end of 2011, this could be an excellent year to donate an easement -- and PEC has stepped up our outreach to make landowners aware of this opportunity. We recently sent a newsletter with conservation updates to over 5,000 landowners in the region.

On the policy side, PEC continues to advocate for strong incentives that make it possible for people to protect their land, from the Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credit to the federal income and estate tax incentives.

PEC also just earned national land trust accreditation -- an important step as we expand our role as a full-service land trust, opening more opportunities for people in the Piedmont to protect the places that they care about.

Thank you to everyone who protected their land in 2010 and to everyone who supported land conservation in the Piedmont!

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy designated two National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (NIETCs), where energy companies were granted unprecedented access to federal eminent domain authority for the fast track siting of transmission lines. These "corridors" spanned 100 million acres, and the larger of the two, in the eastern part of the country, extended from New York to Virginia and included six of PEC's nine counties: Clarke, Culpeper, Fauquier, Loudoun, Madison and Rappahannock.

From the first draft designation in 2006, PEC spearheaded a campaign to stop this usurpation of authority from the states, which gave energy companies a major advantage in transmission line cases. Now, the NIETC designations have been vacated, since PEC and our partners won our case in federal court!

When Mike and Margrete Stevens first came to Fauquier County eighteen years ago, as the new owners of Bonny Brook Farm, near Warrenton, they made friends with their neighbors Julian and Sue Scheer and Hilary and Rich Gerhardt (the Scheers' daughter and son-in-law). This friendship with a family of dedicated conservationists led the Stevens to start hosting a wildflower walk on their land each April, as a sky-colored carpet of Virginia Bluebells blossoms along Cedar Run.

In a dramatic win for historic preservation, after three years of controversy, Walmart has dropped its plans to build a Supercenter at the edge of Wilderness Battlefield in Orange County. On the first day of a court case contesting Orange County's decision to approve the big-box store, Walmart made a surprise announcement -- that it had reversed its course, deciding not to build on the historic property but to preserve it.

PEC was recently awarded accreditation by the Land Trust Alliance Accreditation Commission. Accreditation is a mark of distinction, indicating to the public that a conservation organization meets national standards for excellence and will uphold the public's trust over the long term. PEC is one of only 130 out of the 1,700 land trusts in the country to achieve this status since it became available in 2008.

PEC recently completed an update of our Strategic Plan, which establishes our goals for the next five years and outlines the actions needed to accomplish them.

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