Rappahannock News - - SCHOOL & SPORTS NEWS -

From Page 1 block of un­frag­mented forest­land in the area. This ease­ment is the third VDOF has been granted in the county, ac­cord­ing to VDOF for­est con­ser­va­tion spe­cial­ist Mike San­tucci.

“Pri­vate for­est landown­ers, such as Mr. Raiter and Ms. Ka­vanagh, de­ter­mine the sus­tain­abil­ity of our forests and the ben­e­fits they pro­vide. Their com­mit­ment to sus­tain­able for­est man­age­ment, wildlife habi­tat and im­prov­ing wa­ter and air qual­ity is demon­strated by these do­na­tions,” San­tucci said. In Vir­ginia, more than 10 mil­lion acres of forest­land are in the hands of 373,600 pri­vate landown­ers.

The Raiter-Ka­vanagh prop­erty is al­most en­tirely forested. Most of the acreage is an ac­tively man­aged oak sa­vanna wildlife habi­tat. The tract con­tains ap­prox­i­mately a half-mile of frontage along Turkey Run, a trib­u­tary of the Thorn­ton River. Lo­cated above its con­flu­ence with the river, the prop­erty helps pro­tect the wa­ter qual­ity and aquatic habi­tat within the Thorn­ton River wa­ter­shed.

“As an avid hunter and sports­man,” said landowner Raiter, “I wanted to take an ac­tive role in man­ag­ing for quail habi­tat in Rap­pa­han­nock County. Putting the land into ease­ment as­sured that our ef­forts would be passed on to fu­ture own­ers, and the VDOF pro­gram was the best so­lu­tion for small land hold­ings. We had a great ex­pe­ri­ence with ev­ery­one in­volved.”

The VDOF con­ser­va­tion ease­ment pro­gram is the only one in the state that fo­cuses pri­mar­ily on pro­tect­ing work­ing forests. To be con­sid­ered, a prop- erty 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.

Any con­ser­va­tion ease­ment is a vol­un­tary le­gal agree­ment be­tween a landowner and a govern­ment agency, like the VDOF, or a non-profit con­ser­va­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion, such as the VOF, that pro­tects the con­ser­va­tion val­ues of a prop­erty. The landowner con­tin­ues to own, use and con­trol the land.

As to why the num­ber of ease­ments, and their acreage, went down last year in Rap­pa­han­nock, the an­swer seems to lie in fi­nan­cial un­cer­tainty. State and fed­eral tax in­cen­tives par­tially off­set the fi­nan­cial sac­ri­fices that landown­ers make when they give up part of the devel­op­ment po­ten­tial of their land, but in 2010, Congress did not vote un­til De­cem­ber to main­tain the ex­panded fed­eral tax in­cen­tive.

In ad­di­tion, the de­pressed econ­omy meant the value of land ap­praisals – and thus tax de­duc­tions – would likely have been lower than in years past.

“Through­out 2010, lo­cal and na­tional land trusts were frus­trated by failed at­tempt af­ter failed at­tempt at ex­ten­sion of the tax in­cen­tive by Congress.” ac­cord­ing to Nathan Jenk­ins, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Rap­pa­han­nock County Con­ser­va­tion Al­liance (RCCA). “ Un­der­stand­ably, landown­ers were hes­i­tant to start the process with­out an idea of what the fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions would be.”

The ease­ment in­cen­tive, said Jenk­ins, “in­creased a fed­eral in­come tax de­duc­tion from 30 per­cent to 50 per­cent per year, un­til reach­ing the value of the do­nated ease­ment. For farm­ers, the in­come tax de­duc­tion was 100 per­cent. Ad­di­tion­ally, landown­ers could take this de­duc­tion for 16 years rather than six. Ob­vi­ously, many folks in Rap­pa­han­nock would need the en­hanced in­cen­tive – al­low­ing a higher de­duc­tion over a longer pe­riod of time – so that a con­ser­va­tion ease­ment would make fi­nan­cial sense, no mat­ter how much they wanted to see their land pre­served.”

Now with the ex­panded fed­eral tax in­cen­tive in place through 2011, Jenk­ins con­tin­ued, “this is a par­tic­u­larly good year for landown­ers who want to do­nate a con­ser­va­tion ease­ment.”

Lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions like the RCCA and PEC are avail­able to help Rap­pa­han­nock landown­ers start and then nav­i­gate the some­times long and com­pli­cated ease­ment process.

The PEC’s land con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cer Don Loock says, “ Pri­vate landown­ers in Rap­pa­han­nock County have shown in­cred­i­ble lead­er­ship in pro­tect­ing the spe­cial re­sources of the county. I look for­ward to work­ing with more landown­ers in 2011 in­ter­ested in pro­vid­ing for the long-term stew­ard­ship of their prop­er­ties and the con­tin­ued legacy of Rap­pa­han­nock as a leader in pro­tect­ing its wa­ter, land, his­tory, cul­ture, and scenic beauty.”

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