One million acres have been conserved since Virginia’s Land Preservation Tax Credit went into effect, highlighting the importance of land conservation moving forward.
HARRISONBURG, VA – Virginia’s Land Preservation Tax Credit has led to the permanent protection of over 1 million acres of land in Virginia, Senator Emmett W. Hanger Jr. announced on April 26 in Harrisonburg at the Virginia Land and Greenways Conference sponsored by Virginia’s United Land Trusts. More than five times larger than the Shenandoah National Park, the land protected through this nationally acclaimed program benefits all Virginians by providing clean air and safe drinking water, increasing access to nature, and supporting job-creating industries such as agriculture and forestry. In addition, the resulting land protection is critical to meeting an array of public policy objectives ranging from farmland protection and climate resilience to meeting the goals of the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort.
“The Land Preservation Tax Credit was a joint effort coming out of the Commission on the Future of Virginia’s Environment,” Hanger said when announcing the milestone on Wednesday. “None of us imagined that it would be as big as it would be.”
“The permanent protection of over 1 million acres of land in Virginia is an exciting milestone,” said U.S. Senator Tim Kaine. “I’m proud that we succeeded in protecting 424,000 acres of land in Virginia when I was governor, and this bipartisan program helped make that possible. Virginia’s natural treasures are crucial to the way of life and local economies in communities throughout the commonwealth, and I look forward to continuing to do all that I can on the federal level to help protect them.”
Established in January 2000 with the unanimous and bipartisan passage of the Virginia Land Conservation Incentives Act of 1999, the LPTC is the single largest factor in Virginia’s land conservation success, dramatically increasing the pace and scale of conservation in the commonwealth. In the 35 years prior to the passage of the LPTC, according to Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation data, roughly 175,000 acres had been permanently protected by conservation easements in Virginia. In the 22 years since, more than seven times that amount, totaling more than 1,275,000 acres, have been conserved statewide, making Virginia a national leader in private land conservation.
“The Land Preservation Tax Credit has been used to protect important lands in more than 100 localities across every region of Virginia,” said Ellen Shepard, executive director of Virginia’s United Land Trusts. “By allowing landowners with a wide range of economic circumstances to benefit from these tax incentives, the Land Preservation Tax Credit has vastly expanded the map of conserved land across the commonwealth.”
The LPTC provides landowners with tax credits in exchange for voluntarily limiting future development on their land and conserving important natural, cultural, scenic, and historic resources. Over the past 20 years, families across Virginia have worked with public agencies and nonprofit land trusts to voluntarily protect their property from future development and ensure stewardship of important conservation values for future generations.
“We wanted to do something with our resources beyond our needs,” said Lynn Cameron, a Virginia landowner who has permanently protected 168 acres adjacent to Shenandoah National Park through the LPTC. “We wanted to do something for the greater good and it’s always been important to us to protect nature. The tax credits helped us pay for the land and it was the best investment we could have ever made.”
Virginia is one of only five states that makes its land preservation tax credits transferable. By allowing easement donors to sell tax credits they’re unable to use, the program reaches across the economic spectrum and plays a significant role in many landowners’ decisions to donate an easement. And ultimately, tens of thousands of acres are permanently protected in Virginia each year at a fraction of the cost it would take for the commonwealth to acquire the land needed to meet its conservation and water quality goals.
“I count myself fortunate for the opportunities I have had over the years to be involved in numerous areas that have contributed positively to the quality of life we enjoy in the commonwealth,” said Hanger. “The work we did over 20 years ago in the Commission on the Future of Virginia’s Environment is an excellent example of bipartisan efforts that will continue to pay off great dividends to future generations of Virginians in both tax incentives and land preservation.”
Comments From Around the Commonwealth
“Back in 1998, when the tax credit was formulated, our goal was simple: to preserve and protect Virginia’s natural resources. When the bill was introduced in 1999, we had no idea that we could in such a short time, within our lifetimes, preserve 1 million acres. The impact of the Land Preservation Tax Credit on our environment is immeasurable, and I am humbled to have played a role in reaching this remarkable achievement.” —Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), co-patron of the 1999 LPTC legislation.
“Twenty years ago, I thought that making the Land Preservation Tax Credit transferable would bring the free market to the commonwealth’s land conservation efforts. Little did we know that it would help us conserve 1 million acres. I extend my congratulations to the land conservation community and the public servants who made this milestone possible.” —William J. Howell (R-Stafford), former speaker of the House of Delegates and patron of HB 1322 (2002), which made the Land Preservation Tax Credit transferable.
“As Chair of the Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee, I know the importance of the tax credit program and how it helps so many in our commonwealth. I have always been a steward of Virginia’s natural resources and open space and am delighted to hear that the Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credit program has protected 1 million acres from sprawl since it began in 2000.” —Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax), chair of the Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee.
“To succeed Mr. Speaker Bill Howell as a custodian of the commonwealth’s Land Preservation Tax Credit has been a distinct privilege of my service in the House of Delegates. Think of it: We have secured 1 million acres of land in Virginia from sprawl, and we have saved it for agriculture, wildlife habitat, pollution control, and historic preservation. The milestone gives all of us one more reason to celebrate the vision and accomplishments of all of the public servants and advocates who made this accomplishment possible.” —Delegate R. Lee Ware (R-Powhatan), chair of the House Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee and patron of five different bills that expanded and improved the Land Preservation Tax Credit.
“The Land Preservation Tax Credit program continues to help preserve the scenic open spaces that make the commonwealth special and is an important tool in our efforts to restore water quality and clean up Chesapeake Bay. We encourage more landowners to contribute to the protection of Virginia’s natural resources by participating in the program.” —Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Travis Voyles.
“Throughout Virginia’s history, agriculture and forestry have been central to the culture and livelihood of the commonwealth’s residents. As times have changed, the total amount of forest and farmland has greatly diminished. Support for these industries and businesses is vital. The Land Preservation Tax Credit program has greatly increased the ability for voluntary land conservation among Virginia’s private forest and agricultural landowners.” —Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matthew Lohr.
“Every acre a landowner helps to preserve through this popular program is another acre toward a more sustainable commonwealth for all of us. The Land Preservation Tax Credit program also helps us work toward goals of increasing public access to open space, including historic battlefields and other properties. We are honored to be able to help so many Virginians create a permanent, living legacy.” —Department of Conservation and Recreation Director Matthew Wells.
“Since 2000, the Land Preservation Tax Credit has fueled private land conservation at an incredible pace — nearly five acres every hour. Our foundation has worked with thousands of landowners who’ve utilized this program, and most of them have reinvested the tax credits back into the land by expanding their farming and forestry operations and enhancing wildlife habitat. These lands will benefit Virginians for generations to come.” —Brett Glymph, executive director of Virginia Outdoors Foundation.
“Virginia Department of Forestry recently celebrated our 205th conservation easement, and the tremendous success of the VDOF forestland conservation program would not have been possible without the LPTC.” —State Forester Rob Farrell.
Photos by Hugh Kenny.
Posted on: May 3, 2023