The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) recorded its first conservation easement in Clarke County on Dec. 1, 2009. Mike and Evelyn Walker donated to the VDOF a working forest easement protecting 230 acres on Taylors Hill, east of Berryville. Overlooking the Shenandoah River, the easement limits future development, conserving a large block of forestland in perpetuity.
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a government agency or a non-profit conservation organization that protects the conservation values of a property. The landowner continues to own, use and control the land. A working forest easement protects forest values and benefits by assuring sustainable forest management practices will run with the property in perpetuity, providing continuous supplies of forest products and environmental services, such as clean air and water, wildlife habitat and scenic values.
The Walker tract is nearly entirely forested and contributes to a large, unfragmented forested acreage on the western slopes of the Blue Ridge crest. Much of the property is visible from the Shenandoah River and River Road, greatly contributing to the scenic viewshed of the area. Several streams originate on the property that flow to directly into the Shenandoah River, helping safeguard its water quality and aquatic habitat.
“Evelyn and I wanted to perpetuate the natural elements of this property,” said Mike Walker. “We wanted to do what we could, in some small way, to help protect the landscape for future generations.Our property is completely forested, so when we found out about VDOF’s conservation easement program, it seemed like a natural fit. The entire process has been much simpler than anticipated, and it has been a pleasure working with the VDOF.”
Large blocks of forestland are critical to sustainable forest management; interconnected wildlife habitat, and the flow of other ecosystem services, such as improving water and air quality and carbon sequestration. Unbroken forests also enhance the overall quality of life of the local residents.
Mike Santucci, VDOF forest conservation specialist, said, “Virginia is losing more than 27,000 acres of forestland annually to conversion, and that rate is increasing. Loss of forested acres and the fragmentation of the remaining acres reduce the potential of the forest to provide the economic, social and ecological benefits on which we depend. This continues to be one of the most significant threats to the forest resource in Virginia, especially the northern Shenandoah Valley.
“We are very appreciative of the Walker’s donation and their desire to sustain the forest land base in perpetuity,” Santucci said. “It’s a pleasure to work with folks who have as solid a commitment to protecting natural resources as the Walkers do, and to be able to help them meet their long-term conservation goals. We are also thankful for the opportunity to contribute to the longstanding and successful conservation efforts in Clarke County.”
The VDOF conservation easement program is the only one in the state that focuses solely on protecting working forests. To be considered, a property must be at least 50 acres in size; 75 percent forested, and the landowner must be willing to have a forest stewardship management plan prepared. Landowners who want to ensure that their land will be forever maintained as forest may consider a VDOF easement.
Initial easement information and the various conservation options were presented to the Walkers by Don Loock of the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the area’s rural economy, natural resources, history and beauty.
For additional information on the VDOF conservation easement program, contact Mike Santucci, forest conservation specialist, at 434.220.9182, or visit the VDOF Web site at www.dof.virginia.gov.