Natural, Historic & Cultural Resources

Land Preservation

Rich, diverse natural resources are some of the chief jewels in Virginia's crown. As Virginia and its citizens partner to preserve the Commonwealth's natural resources, the importance of foresight cannot be overstated.

Why is This Important?

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. Being good stewards requires actions to ensure that the natural, cultural and historic resources treasured by Virginians are available for future generations to enjoy. Protecting land also helps in meeting goals relating to water quality, wildlife habitat, recreation and quality of life.

How is Virginia Doing?

In the last six years (FY2001-FY2006), an average of 56,000 acres per year statewide have been protected in Virginia, counting the combined efforts of both private and public organizations and agencies. In Fiscal Year 2006, 65,764 acres were protected in the Commonwealth, and an ambitious goal of protecting 400,000 acres by 2010 has been set.

According to the state's best estimate, as of June 30, 2006, over 3.44 million acres of open space, parks, historic lands, natural areas, forests, farms and other lands have been preserved by federal, state and local governments and private conservation organizations. These preserved lands represent about 13.6 percent of the Commonwealth's total land (25,270,000 acres) currently permanently protected for conservation purposes through land ownership and easements. Almost three-fourths (71 percent) of the preserved lands are held by the federal government, 22 percent by the state, about 4 percent by local governments and 3 percent by private/nonprofit organizations. Recent efforts show an increasing trend of acres conserved in the Commonwealth.

Land Preservation in Virginia, 2000-2006

Fiscal Year Total Statewide Acreage Preserved Annual Acreage Preserved
2000 3,108,176.03  
2001 3,163,063.66 54,887.63
2002 3,211,921.82 48,858.16
2003 3,263,491.03 51,569.21
2004 3,320,005.84 56,514.81
2005 3,379,969.55 59,685.71
2006 3,445,455.29 65,763.74
Source: Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation's Conservation Lands Database

What Influences Acres of Preserved Land?

Citizens across the Commonwealth have been voluntarily placing conservation easements on their lands for over 40 years. Many of these easements are held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF), which holds more conservation easements than any public land trust in the nation. VOF administers conservation easements on over 330,000 acres represented by more than 2,500 separate properties. Private and non-profit organizations also play an important role in conserving Virginia's important lands in the Commonwealth.

State and federal tax incentives make such donations of conservation easements financially possible for many landowners. For many other landowners, conservation is only possible if a land trust or government agency can purchase the land or an easement. In addition, preservation activities in Virginia are currently driven by citizen donations, state and federal tax incentives, local government activities, and federal funding for conservation activities. Federal funding for land conservation programs has been declining in recent years.

Local government programs for the purchase of development rights (PDR) are gradually taking hold in Virginia. Under these programs, localities purchase conservation easements from farmers and other landowners. At present, 13 localities have instituted PDR programs, but only seven of these have significant funding

What is the State's Role?

The Commonwealth conserves land by purchasing lands for public use, providing tax incentives to private landowners for conservation and providing matching grants to land trusts that purchase land and easements.

Virginia has a number of state agencies whose mission includes the protection of important lands, including the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Forestry, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. These agencies advise landowners on conservation options, buy land and hold conservation easements, and maintain databases, registries and websites that track various land attributes. The Virginia Land Conservation Foundation (VLCF) makes matching grants to land trusts and local governments.

No state in the nation has a better private land conservation tax inducement than Virginia. The state Land Preservation Tax Credit is the most generous such state incentive for land conservation in the nation.

What can Citizens Do?

Individuals and groups are encouraged to be active participants in resource management. To learn more about Virginia's environment, stewardship and public participation opportunities, or partners engaged in conservation, please visit the Office of the Secretary of Natural Resources, www.naturalresources.virginia.gov, or Virginia Naturally, www.vanaturally.com.

Data Definitions and Sources

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation: Conservation Lands Database (www.dcr.virginia.gov/olc/)

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Major State Programs

The Department of Conservation and Recreation's Office of Land Conservation helps citizens and organizations protect land. It maintains a statewide "conservation lands" database that includes public and certain private lands with the potential to serve various conservation, recreation and open-space roles. www.dcr.virginia.gov/dnh/ conslandindex.htm. It also produces a directory of Virginia's land conservation trusts and organizations www.dcr.virginia.gov/olc/ landcondir.pdf and a brochure that details state agencies' programs suited to help citizens conserve their land. www.dcr.virginia.gov/olc/ landcon.pdf

The Virginia Land Conservation Foundation provides state funding to conserve certain categories of special land, such as open spaces and parks, natural areas, historic areas, and farmland and forest preservation. www.dcr.virginia.gov/vlcf/ index.htm

The Virginia Conservation Lands Needs Assessment (VCLNA) can help guide effective conservation by providing tools that help both government and private organizations identify resource protection areas and that, at the local level, help planners manage growth in a balanced way. www.dcr.virginia.gov/ dnh/vclna.htm

Thousands of farmers have made the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) one of Virginia's most active water quality efforts. The program aims to improve Virginia's water quality and wildlife habitat by offering financial incentives, cost-share and rental payments to farmers who voluntarily restore riparian buffers, filter strips and wetlands through the installation of approved conservation practices. www.dcr.virginia.gov/sw/crep.htm

DEQ's Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program is developing strategies to address high priority needs in areas such as integrated coastal planning, use conflict resolution and managing shorelines to better prepare for coastal hazards, improve habitat and water quality. www.deq.state.va.us/coastal/

Virginia Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund -- Land Conservation Loan Program allows the State Water Control Board to authorize low interest loans from the Fund for land acquisition when the Board is satisfied that the acquisition would protect or improve water quality and prevent pollution of state waters. www.deq.state.va.us/cap/ lcguide.html

Department of Taxation's Land Preservation Tax Credit allows individuals and corporations to take a credit for conveying land located in Virginia for such purposes as historical or conservation preservation, agricultural use, forest use, open space, natural resource conservation. www.tax.virginia.gov/site.cfm? alias=TaxCredit2#preservation

Additional Information

Virginia Outdoors Foundation www.virginiaoutdoorsfoundation.org/

Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts www.vaswcd.org

Department of Forestry www.dof.virginia.gov/

Department of Game and Inland Fisheries www.dgif.state.va.us/

Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: Farmland Preservation Taskforce www.vdacs.virginia.gov/ pdffiles/pdf05.pdf (PDF)