Conservation Easements

New Funding Available for Conservation Easements

Incentive payments of up to $10,000 to help Smith Creek landowners place whole farm easements on their property through a Valley Conservation Council grant.

Valley Conservation Council (VCC), a Shenandoah Valley based nonprofit citizens’ organization, is offering incentive payments of up to $10,000 to Smith Creek landowners who donate a conservation easement within the next two years thanks to a grant awarded by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation. Easement donors can use the funds they receive through this program with no restrictions. These incentive payments are in addition to established, attractive tax benefits associated with donating an easement. A conservation easement is a voluntary, permanent agreement whereby a landowner retains ownership of his/her property but conveys certain specified development rights to the holder of the easement. The easement holder ensures the land remains in agricultural/forestal use and conforms to the restrictions agreed upon by the landowner and the holder in the easement.

VCC’s project, Land & Water Connections: Perpetuating Healthy Streams, will support the placement of whole farm conservation easements on lands within the Smith Creek watershed, as well as lands within Shenandoah River headwaters streams in Augusta County. To be eligible for this program, landowners must have applied (or be willing to apply) agricultural best management practices (BMPs) on their farm that improve water quality, such as livestock stream exclusion and riparian forested buffers. Additionally, eligible farms must contain a perennial stream that could support habitat for Eastern Brook Trout. Twelve landowners are expected to enroll in this program during the two year project period. The goal of the program is three-fold: conserve working lands, improve water quality for Eastern Brook Trout habitat, and enhance the farmer’s bottom line.

Many Smith Creek and Shenandoah Valley farmers and landowners have made significant investments in agricultural BMPs aimed at improving soil health, water quality, and fish and wildlife habitat on their land. A majority of these BMPs are installed through cost share programs offered by state and federal government agencies that typically require a contract period of fifteen years or less. There is no guarantee that these practices will be sustained after the contract term expires. The Land & Water Connections project ensures that the investments and efforts contributed to implementing BMPs will continue to benefit our land, water, and agricultural heritage through a permanent conservation easement.

VCC staff can help assist Smith Creek landowners through the easement process if they qualify. Please contact Faye Cooper or Ben Craig with VCC at (540) 886-3541 or to learn more about land protection options and the Land & Water Connections project.