The first census of land trusts in five years found 10 million new acres conserved nationwide since 2005, including a total of 1.1 million acres protected here in Virginia. Surprisingly, Virginia’s land protection showed a higher rate of growth during the last five years than the national average and Northern Virginia did even better than the Commonwealth did over that same period.
The National Land Trust Census, released by the Land Trust Alliance, shows that voluntarily protected land increased 27 percent between 2005 and 2010. In the same period, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, a major federal conservation program, added just over 500,000 acres and saw a 38% funding cut.
A total of 47 million acres—an area over twice the size of all the national parks in the contiguous United States—are now protected by land trusts. A greater percentage of the new acreage comes through local and state land trusts like the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (NVCT). In Virginia, land trusts beat the national average, conserving a total of 1,129,787 acres, a 77% increase in land protected since 2005. Virginia ranks 5th in the nation in acres conserved and is tops in the Southeast.
“Virginians value their land, and we are conserving it at the community level,” said Mike Nardolilli, President of NVCT. “Here in Northern Virginia, we are investing in our future with land trusts that ensure clean water, local food, and places to play for our children and for generations to come.”
Northern Virginia’s growth in acres protected did even better than the state as a whole. NVCT conserved 3,987 acres between 2005 and 2010, a 323% increase in protected land. And it was during this time of unprecedented increase in conservation that NVCT became the first land trust operating in Virginia to be accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. Moreover, two years ago, NVCT acquired a seven-acre property in an urbanized part of Fairfax County that will become public parkland later this year.
An enhanced tax deduction for conservation easement donations has helped America’s land trusts work with farmers, ranchers and other modest-income landowners to sustain a remarkable pace of more than one million acres protected by conservation easements each year! However, if Congress allows this incentive to expire at the end of 2011, fewer landowners will receive tax benefits from the generous donation of development rights on their land.
NVCT thanks Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA/1st), Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA/8th), Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA/10th), and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA/11th) for being among the 262 House and 11 Senate co-sponsors of H.R. 1964/S. 339, bills to make this important conservation tax incentive permanent. That’s more co-sponsors than any other tax bill in Congress! We encourage Senator Warner (D-VA) and Senator Webb (D-VA) to join them as co-sponsors of this important legislation.
Other findings of the new National Land Trust Census include:
· Land trusts saw a 70% increase in volunteers from the previous 5-year period.
· Since 2005, there are 19% more paid employees and contractors at land trusts.
· Operating budgets for land trusts are up 36% since 2005. State and local trusts nearly tripled operating endowments in five years ensuring that land trust-protected land stays protected.
· Urban parks, gardens, or open spaces are now a priority for 27 % of trusts, a threefold increase over respondents in 2005.
The Northern Virginia Conservation Trust is an award winning charity that saves nearby nature by helping local governments and private landowners voluntarily preserve natural areas, trails, streams, and parks. Founded in 1994, NVCT has preserved 5,422 acres in Northern Virginia. NVCT currently holds 98 conservation easements and owns 21 properties, including 70 acres protecting one of the largest Great Blue Heron nesting sites in the lower Potomac region. The Land Trust Accreditation Commission accredited NVCT in 2008. And the Catalogue for Philanthropy, for the second time, recognized NVCT as one of the best small nonprofits in the Washington DC area in 2010.In 2011 alone, NVCT’s Explore & Restore Program held 31 events where 1,080 participants contributed more than 1,360 volunteer hours dedicated to land stewardship projects.
The Land Trust Alliance is a national conservation organization that works to save the places people love. We increase the pace of conservation, so more land and natural resources get protected. We enhance the quality of conservation, so the most important lands get protected using the best practices in the business. And we ensure the permanence of conservation by creating the laws and resources needed to defend protected land over time. The Land Trust Alliance headquarters is in Washington, D.C.