RICHMOND, VA [March 30, 2021] — This month, Governor Northam signed into law important legislation preserving the integrity of all conservation easements throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The bipartisan legislation, SB 1199 (Petersen) and its House companion HB 1760 (Webert / Gooditis), passed with broad support during the 2021 General Assembly Session, ensuring that any dispute over easement terms are decided in favor of the conservation purpose of the easement.
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 nonprofit land trusts or local or state agencies to craft easement terms that protect the unique conservation values of their property. Approximately 1 million acres have been placed under conservation easement in Virginia to date.
This legislation will ensure that the public’s investment in conservation and protection of private land will meet the tests of time. The bill also makes it clear that the conservation purposes for which private landowners have contributed so much will remain paramount.
For background on the need for this legislation, visit the Virginia Conservation Network’s Environmental Briefing Book paper: Ensuring the Benefits of Conservation Easements.
Media contacts for joint statement:
Cindy Sabato, The Piedmont Environmental Council
firstname.lastname@example.org | 540-347-2334 ext. 7021
Kelley Galownia, The Nature Conservancy
email@example.com | 571-403-4625
Quotes from the bill patrons:
“I was proud to carry this legislation, knowing how important Virginia’s conservation easement program is to protecting lands for future generations.”
~ Senator Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City
“Conservation easements represent a love of the land by the original donor and a significant commitment by the commonwealth to preserve the agricultural, forestal and natural resources of Virginia. This legislation is an essential part of keeping our promise to the donor and the taxpayer.”
~ Delegate Michael Webert, R-Fauquier
“In my time as a delegate, I’ve dedicated myself to the preservation of farmland and the protection of our natural resources. I am very proud to have joined this effort, ensuring these lands and resources are available to future generations.”
~ Delegate Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke
Response from Virginia’s conservation community:
“With the passage of this legislation, the General Assembly has now made it clear that the underlying conservation purpose of easements must be upheld, thus protecting the intent of easement donors and the investment Virginia has made to permanently protect our farms, fields, forests and waterways.”
~ Chris Miller, President, The Piedmont Environmental Council
“Conservation easements are a critical tool to ensure the protection of habitat and other conservation value on private lands. With the passage of this legislation, we can be confident that courts will interpret easements as intended by the donors who loved their lands enough to protect them with this tool.”
~ Locke Ogens, Virginia State Director, The Nature Conservancy
“This bill ensures the integrity of Virginia’s voluntary land protection program and protects the public investment supporting it.”
~ Brett Glymph, Executive Director, Virginia Outdoors Foundation
“This legislation is a victory for protecting the conservation purposes for which landowners have given valuable private property rights to the conservation easement holder for the benefit of the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The new rule of construction is superior to the standard previously in place, which resolved any ambiguity against upholding the restrictions protecting the conservation purposes of the easement. The new policy neither favors the holder nor the landowner but rather is focused on promoting the intent of the easement itself.”
~ Stephen W. Lemon, private practice attorney and Virginia’s United Land Trusts Board Member
“Private land conservation plays an essential role in the preservation of our nation’s natural and working lands. As we strive to meet the many challenges posed by our changing climate, this bipartisan achievement helps ensure the permanence of conservation easements and their value to all state residents. On behalf of the Land Trust Alliance, I applaud the Virginia General Assembly and Governor Ralph Northam for this affirmed commitment to private land conservation.”
~ Andrew Bowman, President and CEO, Land Trust Alliance
“Thank you Governor Northam for your continued commitment to land conservation and protection. This legislation aids small and medium size landowners in protecting their land assets using conservation easements.”
~ Ebonie Alexander, Executive Director, Black Family Land Trust
“After more than 50 years of land conservation easements in Virginia, upholding the intent of protecting the conservation purposes of an easement is one of the strongest affirmations the Virginia General Assembly has had of the program in decades. Thank you to all of the legislators and Governor Northam for supporting the protection of our natural and cultural resources for current and future generations.”
~ Parker C. Agelasto, Executive Director, Capital Region Land Conservancy
“Chesapeake Conservancy applauds the Virginia General Assembly and Governor Northam for passing this important legislation that will ensure conservation values remain protected by conservation easements, in order to ensure continued benefits for Virginians and their environment.”
~Joel Dunn, President & CEO, Chesapeake Conservancy
“Passage of this landmark legislation will benefit Virginians for generations to come. From the Shenandoah Valley and Appalachian Plateau to the Tidewater and Chesapeake Bay, conservation easements protect Virginia’s rich history, its rural character, and the quality of life of its residents.”
~ Jim Campi, Spokesperson, American Battlefield Trust
“The Virginia Conservation Network thanks Governor Northam and bill patrons Senator Petersen and Delegates Gooditis and Webert for protecting Virginia’s most valuable wildlife habitats, working farms and forests, scenic viewsheds, and cultural landscape assets. Through the advocacy of our local partners, especially The Piedmont Environmental Council, we are inspired by the protection of Virginia’s resource lands both for today’s and our future generations.”
~ Pat Calvert, Senior Policy & Campaigns Manager, Virginia Conservation Network
“Virginia’s conservation easement program is one of the best tools we have to safeguard open space and water quality, but it can only work when there are assurances that these easements will be held in perpetuity. This is why passage of Senate Bill 1199 and House Bill 1760 was so critical – this legislation upholds the integrity of this program and ensures the long-term protection of important open space in Virginia.”
~ Mike Town, Executive Director, Virginia League of Conservation Voters