September 11, 2006
VSB Partners with State to Promote Conservation Easements
In April 2006, Governor Kaine announced the centerpiece of his environmental agenda: an ambitious goal of permanently preserving 400,000 acres by the end of his administration. In his speech, the Governor noted that time is of the essence for land conservation in Virginia: “Of all the development that has occurred in the last 400 years, more than a quarter of it has taken place in the last 15 years.??? He further warned that if development continues at this pace “…Virginia will develop more land in the next 40 years than in the last 400 years.??? The Governor explained that: “I will set and meet this goal during my term -- not just because it’s the right thing to do -- I will do it because if I don’t, the opportunity to do it will not be there for future governors and future Virginians.???
The Virginia State Bar has an important role to play in this proactive conservation policy. With the past as prologue, it is safe to assume that 75% of the land conservation needed to reach the Governor’s goal will be in the form of conservation easements. This reflects two time-honored Virginia (Jeffersonian) traditions -- reverence for private property rights and a keen sense of personal land stewardship. A conservation easement is a voluntary, legally binding agreement that limits certain types of uses or prevents development from taking place on a piece of property now and in the future, while protecting the property’s ecological or open-space values.
Virginia has an innovative tax credit program to encourage the donation of conservation easements, and the federal income tax benefit associated with such donations has recently been made more generous. But relatively few attorneys across the Commonwealth currently have expertise in advising clients concerning the legal and tax ramifications of donating or selling conservation easements. Therefore, the Virginia State Bar intends to assist the Governor in protecting the precious land resources for which Virginia has been long revered. We will be partnering with the Office of the Secretary of Natural Resources and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF), a state agency that holds more than 80% of the conservation easements recorded in Virginia’s courthouses, to offer CLE courses pertinent to conservation easement structure and practice.
To learn more about VOF and view its guidelines and document entitled “10 Steps to Conveying a VOF Conservation Easement,??? and draft conservation easement template, go to: http://www.virginiaoutdoorsfoundation.org/
Finally, the most authoritative text on conservation easements is The Conservation Easement Handbook, published in 2005 by the Land Trust Alliance and the Trust for Public Lands.Updated: Oct 31, 2006