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Virginia's conservation agencies continue to rack up protective easements
Land on the 481-acre Ovoka farm in Fauquier and Clarke counties was placed in a conservation easement last year.
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Fauquier, Richards says, has been racking up thousands of acres in easements, much of it farm land.
More specifically, "Large farms in large clusters," she said, which preserves prime agricultural areas, along with large chunks of open space for wildlife.
Suburban encroachment is another reason conservation easements are on the rise: "Landowners are seeing the inexorable march outward from urban areas, and saying, 'This is something I can do now,'" Richards said.
Closer to more-developed areas such as Fredericksburg, Prince William and even Fairfax County, "Easements are being done on smaller properties," Richards said.
Preservation efforts go beyond open space and farmland. The Civil War Trust and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, for example, have teamed up to complete conservation easements on significant battlefield-related tracts here that are not managed by the National Park Service.
Landowners have incentives beyond a desire to be good stewards.
Along with a federal income tax deduction, Virginia residents enjoy one of the nation's most-generous incentives, the Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credit.
It allows an income tax credit for 40 percent of the value of donated land or conservation easements. Taxpayers may write off up to $100,000 in income for the first year, and 10 years after that, and unused tax credits can be sold.
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The Virginia Outdoors Foundation, a quasi-state agency established up by the General Assembly, protected 26,375 acres through 127 conservation easements in 2012. That included 120 miles of streams, 11,000 acres of farmland and 1,700 acres along state-designated scenic roads and rivers, according to the agency. It has protected more than 675,000 acres since it was established by the General Assembly in 1966.
The nonprofit Piedmont Environmental Council in Warrenton last year placed protections on more than 1,000 acres in Albemarle, Madison, Rappahannock, Orange, Clarke and Fauquier counties through conservation easements and ownership.
--VOF and PEC annual reports