Conservation Values Of Easements

conservation values of easements | ODLC

By Geoffrey Nichols

March 10, 2023

When a property is put into conservation easement, one of the initial steps is identifying the important conservation values in the baseline report. There are a number of values to be protected on most properties, each coming with their own challenges and restrictions. Outlined below is a brief overview of the major values cited in most baseline reports:

  1. Agricultural Use. Many properties put into easement are active farms as designated by their tax status. Farming can consist of activities not limited to: row crops, animal husbandry, horticulture, arboriculture, brewing, viticulture, equestrian activities, hay and fiber production. In particular, this designation seeks to protect soil health and keep farming active on the property.
  2. Forestal Use. Properties with healthy, native forests are important resources for both commercial timber production and protecting local habitats. Large networks of uninterrupted forest are a key goal of conservation easements. Depending on the planned use, the forest can either be left undisturbed, harvested with conservation in mind, or enriched through removal of invasive trees and understory.
  3. Natural Habitat and Biological Diversity. Most properties are host to several native plant and animal species that enrich the local environment. Certain areas may also be designated habitat for threatened or endangered species or contain unique habitat such as caves or other unique topography. Protecting lands with adjacency to parkland, forests, streams, rivers, and other heritage resources are key in strengthening native habitats and biodiversity.
  4. Historic Preservation. Many areas of Virginia fall within a historic district, heritage area, or have landmark buildings that played a role in community development. Protecting these resources and lands around them keep the history of Virginia alive and thriving.
  5. Natural-Resource Based Outdoor Recreation or Education. Both private and publicly owned land can qualify for this designation if they are being actively used as parks, trails, greenways, or for other recreational activities. Example activities might include hunting, fishing, hiking, community gardens, and educational walks. If the facility is operated for public benefit, it is not only serving the community, but also helping to preserve and educate people about natural resources.  
  6. Watershed Preservation. Properties that contain substantial wetlands, riparian habitat, floodplain, vegetated buffers, or karst features will generally qualify for this designation. Properties that also may have large groundwater recharge areas, with certain topography or soils, or with adjacency to local water reservoirs must be protected to maintain both the environment and local drinking supplies.
  7. Preservation of Scenic Open Space. As a general designation, any properties adjacent to scenic areas, parks, historic districts, certain roads, waterways, hillsides, or other easements will qualify. In both rural and urban areas, keeping as much of the local viewshed and natural character intact as possible is an important goal to strive for and benefits both the community and tourism.
  8. Conservation and Open Space as Designated by Federal, State, or Local Governments. Virginia, county governments, and local governments often have comprehensive goals for protecting the local environment and heritage of the area. These may come in the form of official designations, tax benefits or classifications, public benefit, or general support of having open greenspace, habitat, or undeveloped lands.

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