Andrea Reese, stewardship specialist and Katherine McKinney, Stewardship assistant from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation recently visited the farm to conduct a followup survey for the farm’s conservation easement. They walked around, made sure the terms of the easement are being adhered to and learned about the mission of the White House Farm Foundation.
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation was created in 1966 by the VA General Assembly and was established to ‘promote the preservation of open space lands, and to encourage private gifts of money, securities, land or other property to preserve the scenic, historic, scientific, open space and recreational areas of the Commonwealth’.
For more information go to: http://www.virginiaoutdoorsfoundation.org/VOF_about-mission.php
Page County Conservation Easements
Currently there are 1,230 acres under permanent conservation easement in Page County. Conservation easements are voluntary agreements that allow a landowner to permanently limit the type and amount of development on their property while retaining private ownership. Typically, they are special parcels of land which have high value to wildlife (wildlife corridors), historical, cultural or aesthetic value. They include scenic areas adjoining the Shenandoah National Park or George Washington National Forest, endangered species habitats, forests, wetlands, river bottoms, etc. They may also serve the purpose of enhancing and protecting view sheds.
Conservation easements are significant tools for protecting land which may be developed in ways which contribute to sprawl. They are the bulwarks against the unintended consequences of ill-conceived planning policies that consume our countryside and farmland at an exponential rate. They allow thoughtful landowners to plan for the long term future of their property, thus promoting growth to occur in those areas that are most efficient with respect to community services such as municipal water and sewer.
Good planning helps to protect agricultural and open space lands. Once a rural farm is sold and houses are built, the corridors linking the suburb to schools, jobs and larger metropolitan areas tends to get developed, thus contributing to sprawl.
Past Virginia governor Tim Kaine realized the strength and value of conservation easements when he set a goal of preserving 400,000 acres of Virginia land between 2003-2007. Present Governor McDonnell continued the trend when he set a goal of placing an additional 400,000 acres in CEs before 2013.
Perhaps these two public servants had read the statistics on the Valley Conservation webpage and realized the costs associated with sprawl: One-third of all land ever developed in the region has been developed in just the last 15 to 20 years. New developments with hundreds or even thousands of houses are being proposed, some larger than many entire Valley towns. An estimated 10,000 new housing units are already slated to be built in the coming years in Frederick County alone. In Page County, more than 2,300 residential homes have already been approved and are waiting to be built.
Despite their power, CEs are simple to create. A landowner consults with one of the numerous agencies who hold the easements. The Virginia Outdoors Foundation and Valley Conservation Council are two of the most widely known agencies who work with landowners to tailor the CE to each landowners needs. A lot of freedom is allowed – the landowner decides how many acres they want to enroll in the easement and which activities they want to continue including farming, timbering, and even development to a certain degree. The Virginia Department of Forestry and the Land Trust of Virginia also hold easements.
Ecosystem services – the benefits humans receive from nature – give us clean water, habitat for endangered species and clean air. To maintain quality residential, commercial and industrial development we need such open spaces and environmental protection.
For an added incentive, landowners can get tax credits for putting their land under a CE. The professional organizations can provide the exact numbers.
Growth and development are a choice. Citizens decide what they want their community to look like in five years, ten years, fifty years. Supporting protection of our forests and special historic and cultural sites is one way we continue to be unique in the Shenandoah Valley, in the Commonwealth and the nation. We have to live somewhere but careful planning of how we develop is our best hope in preserving our important natural resources.
(The entire White House Farm Foundation property was enrolled under a conservation easement in 2007 held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation).
For more information check out the following web sites: