Show Your Support for Land Conservation in Virginia

The Virginia General Assembly is now in session.  As a member of Virginia’s United Land Trusts (VaULT), we’d like to encourage you to contact your state legislator to share your interest in supporting conservation in Virginia.  You can use the VaULT 2018 Priorities for the Session below to help guide your comments.  To locate your legislator, visit whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov

Questions?  Give us a call at 540-951-1704 or email John Eustis.

Land Conservation Priorities for 2018
From city-owned green spaces to state parks to family farms, land plays an essential role in providing healthy watersheds, sustainable wildlife habitat, prosperous rural economies, and connected communities. Virginia’s three largest industries – agriculture, forestry, and tourism – depend on maintaining a diverse, protected base of natural and cultural lands.

Recommendations (please see Background section below for more information and details)

  1. After demonstrated support for the Land Preservation Tax Credit (LPTC) in the 2017 Session, no
    changes should be made that would reduce the impact and availability of this important land
    conservation tool. The annual credit allocation should remain at $75 million and the limit on
    individual credit use should remain at $50,000 per year.
  2. Virginia should provide full support for its successful land conservation grant programs, as called
    for in state law. The amount should be a total of $20 million, allocated as follows: $16 million for
    the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, $2 million for the Virginia Farmland Preservation
    Fund, and $2 million for the Battlefield Preservation Fund. Unfortunately, funding in the
    Governor’s proposed FY 2019 budget is less than one-third of what the Code of Virginia calls for.
    The total is only $5.75 million: $4.5 million for VLCF, $250,000 for Farmland Preservation, and $1
    million for Battlefield Preservation.
  3. Virginia should provide adequate funding for our easement-holding state agencies in order to
    ensure they are able to accept, hold, and provide stewardship for the important property interests
    they hold on behalf of the Commonwealth. The entire 2% of the transfer fee should go to
    managing the LPTC and stewardship. $600,000 should not be diverted to the general fund.
  4. Budget language limiting the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s ability to acquire land
    for state parks and natural areas should be removed.

Background

Land Preservation Tax Credit: The LPTC provides landowners with the right mix of market-based
incentives, voluntary action, and governmental oversight. The LPTC has incentivized the conservation of
more than 813,000 acres, making it one of the most successful conservation incentives in the nation. The
LPTC provides taxpayers who make gifts of land or conservation easements tax credits equal to 40% of
the value of their donated interest. Landowners with lower incomes may transfer unused credits to other
taxpayers. This allows farmers to afford to continue farming by making investments in equipment and
expanding farm operations. Conservation easements donated using the LPTC have dramatically
increased the number of miles of permanent riparian buffers along the streams and rivers, an important
investment in protecting the quantity and quality of the water that we drink and that businesses rely upon.
Constituents from every corner of the state demonstrated overwhelming support for the LPTC during the
2017 General Assembly Session. Support for tax credits was also shown in a 2017 Wason Center for
Public Policy poll conducted for the Virginia Environmental Endowment. Ninety percent of respondents
said they strongly support (61%) or somewhat support (29%) continuing to provide state tax credits for
landowners who voluntarily preserve farmland, forests, open space and natural areas, and historic sites.
The annual cost of the LPTC, which is capped at $75 million, is only 0.14% of the state budget.

Land Conservation Grant Programs: Legislation was approved in the 2013 General Assembly Session
(HB1398) that requires the Governor to appropriate $20 million for three existing grant programs: Virginia
Land Conservation Foundation, Virginia Farmland Preservation Fund, and the Virginia Battlefield
Preservation Fund.

Virginia has seen a significant increase in demand for outdoor recreation. Outdoor recreation provides
Virginians with opportunities to improve their physical and mental health as well as providing economic
opportunities for communities, including rural communities who want to diversify their tax base. Virginia
outdoor recreation activities generate $21.9 billion in consumer spending, support 197,000 direct jobs,
and account for $6.5 billion in wages and salaries and $1.2 billion in state and local tax revenue with
plenty of opportunities for increasing those numbers. Greenways, blueways, hiking trails, and bike lanes
are a powerful tool to designing healthy, livable, connected communities.

Virginia Land Conservation Foundation: VLCF provides state matching grants on a competitive basis
for the protection of open spaces and parks, natural areas, historic areas, and farmland and forest
preservation. VLCF leverages local, federal, and private investment for natural resource conservation by
paying no more than 50% of the project costs. Grant applications have consistently 1 far exceeded
available funds. Since 2000, over $82 million of grants has been requested of the program while only $28
million has been available. This represents a lost opportunity for the Commonwealth to capture more
than $50 million in federal, local, and private matching dollars for land conservation. At least 50% of
funding must be used for projects with public access. Projects are weighted on criteria such as a priority
in Virginia Outdoors Plan or local comprehensive plan; water quality value; and public access. All
projects require that a minimum of 35-foot wide riparian buffers to protect local water quality and the
Chesapeake Bay.

Virginia Farmland Preservation Fund: In 2007, Virginia delivered on a commitment to working farms
and forestland by establishing the Farmland Preservation Fund, providing limited grant funding to
localities with certified farmland preservation programs. The program requires counties to match dollar
for dollar the amount that is granted to them by the Commonwealth. In FY 2018, localities pledged $18.27
million in matching funds, over 73 times the $250,000 budgeted by Virginia.

Virginia Battlefield Preservation Fund: Virginia has witnessed multiple wars and conflicts, including the
Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and the Civil War. With battlefields scattered across the Commonwealth
preservation of these sites is a challenge. Virginia has more battlefield land than any other state,
providing excellent opportunities for the development of heritage tourism and outdoor classrooms for our
youth to learn the history of the nation and the Commonwealth. Support for the VBPF is the best way to
meet this challenge and to take advantage of $12 million appropriated annually to the National Park
Service American Battlefield Protection program.

Stewardship & Maintenance of the Commonwealth’s Conserved Land: Virginia’s public and private
conservation agencies are tasked with acquiring, holding, maintaining, and stewarding conservation
easements. Lawmakers decided stewardship was an important part of its land investment when at least
half of the 2% LPTC transfer fee was legislatively directed to be distributed to the agencies and
organizations that are responsible for enforcing the conservation purposes of the donated interests. (Va
Code 58.1-513.C.2). A portion of this funding has regularly been diverted to the General Fund. Virginia’s
conservation agencies need adequate funding to ensure the long-term stewardship of conserved lands.
Appropriately directing funding from the LPTC transfer fee would be a welcome start.

Budget language restricting DCR’s ability to acquire land for state parks and natural areas: This
language should be removed. This unnecessarily ties the hands of DCR and could prohibit the
acceptance of important lands at no cost to the state.