Take Action in Support of Land Conservation Legislation

UPDATE: Good news! On Tuesday, January 26, Senator Stuart’s attempt at a floor substitute for SB 1199 was defeated. This allowed the bill that came out of full committee to proceed to a floor vote. On Wednesday, January 27, SB 1199 was read a third time and passed the Senate on a 25-14 vote. You can see the full vote count here: https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?211+vot+SV0144SB1199+SB1199

The bill’s house companion, HB 1760 (Webert / Gooditis), passed the house 100-0, putting the legislation on the path to final passage (barring any unforeseen mischief).

The text below was taken from an email alert sent out on January 19, 2021. Sign up for email alerts >>

aerial image of farmland in the goose creek watershed
Aerial image of farmland in the Goose Creek watershed in Loudoun County, VA. Photo by Hugh Kenny.

Dear Supporter,

Since I emailed you last week about the start of the General Assembly, a Senate version of the conservation easement bill I mentioned was officially introduced by Senator Petersen (SB 1199). Now that we have a companion bill to HB 1760 (Webert and Gooditis), it’s time to send a letter of support to your elected officials.

These bills aim to strengthen the integrity of conservation easements, ensuring that disputes over terms are decided in favor of the conservation purpose of the easement, reflecting the intent of the original easement donor.

Send a Letter to Your Delegate and Senator

Ask your elected officials to support bipartisan legislation that would strengthen conservation easements – HB 1760 and SB 1199.

More information

Read the briefing paper I wrote with Nikki Rovner from The Nature Conservancy in the Virginia Conservation Network’s Legislative Briefing Book, about the need for this legislation. Sunset over farmland in Greene County photo by Harlow Chandler.

Conservation easements are one of the most effective ways to protect farmland, forests, water quality, scenic and historic resources for current and future generations. Private landowners work with state and federal agencies, along with nonprofit land trusts, on easement terms that protect the public values laid out in the Virginia Conservation Easement Act and the Open-Space Land Act.

These easements are legally binding agreements that stay with the land in perpetuity, ensuring that their natural and cultural resources are protected even if the property is sold. Although rare, there have been several recent legal cases in which new landowners dispute the land uses that are and are not permitted under the conservation easement.

A 2016 Virginia Supreme Court ruling made clear that legislation is needed to clarify how courts should handle these disputes. The introduced bills would direct the courts to interpret the easement terms based on the original intent of the conservation easement donation and their protection of public benefits.

I hope you’ll take a minute to contact your delegate and senator and urge them to support the proposed legislation.

Dan Holmes
Director of State Policy
The Piedmont Environmental Council

Dan Holmes headshot

P.S. For those of you interested in legislation concerning sustainable habitat and native plants, we now have an advocacy page set up to support a study that would explore options for phasing out invasive plant sales at garden centers. Read more and send a letter >>

Read about other legislation we’re focused on this session in our email alert from January 12 >>