RD349 - Virginia Outdoors Foundation 2007 Annual Report
Following is a summary of the Virginia Outdoors Foundation 2007 Annual Report to the Governor and General Assembly of Virginia.
Virginia and our nation this year celebrate our 400th Anniversary as we mark the 1607 landing at Jamestown and subsequent establishment of the first permanent English settlement in what would become the United States. Captain John Smith, a leading founder of the fledgling colony and explorer of her natural waterways, truly loved Virginia and repeatedly wrote with near rapture of her bounteous rivers and forests. Now, as when Captain Smith observed in 1612, "Heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for [our] habitation."
For more than four decades, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) has worked to foster the preservation and conservation of open space and farmlands across the Commonwealth. With the largest portfolio of preservation and conservation easements in the nation, the Foundation is the leader in its field. Indeed, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation holds easements on, and thereby provides assistance in stewardship forever for, some of the Commonwealth's most beloved, most recognizable, and most important landscapes and properties.
Noting the urgency of land conservation as the Commonwealth continues to experience extraordinary population growth, Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine in April 2006 set as a goal of his administration the preservation of an additional 400,000 acres in open space. In addition, a General Assembly of Virginia 2006-07 Joint Legislative Subcommittee is studying additional strategies for land preservation. In his January 2007 State of the Commonwealth address Governor Kaine applauded VOF for its critical and outstanding efforts to conserve open-space land on behalf of the people of Virginia.
In the first six months of our nation's quadricentennial, and in the prior six month-period, as well, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation celebrated with its own remarkable and noteworthy achievements. From new easements acquired to stewardship visits completed to administrative initiatives introduced and efficiencies enhanced, VOF played an evermore pivotal role in working to conserve and preserve the "common wealth" of Virginia.
Creation and Codification
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation was created by the General Assembly of Virginia in 1966 "to promote the preservation of open space lands and to encourage private gifts of money, securities, land or other property to preserve the natural, scenic, historic, open-space and recreational areas of the Commonwealth." Its establishment, powers, and responsibilities are codified pursuant to Code ofVirginia Section 10.1-1800 et seq. (Va. Code. Ann. Section 10.1-1800 et seq. (Repl. Vol. 2006)). As a "body politic," VOF has characteristics both of a Commonwealth of Virginia executive branch agency within the Secretariat ofNatural Resources and independent instrumentality as a public land conservation foundation.
The Virginia Open-Space Land Act (Va. Code. Ann. Section 10.01-1700 et seq. (Repl. Vol. 2006)), also enacted in 1966, authorizes public bodies to acquire or designate interests in property for use as open space and permits acquisition of the same by gift, purchase, devise, or bequest. Through its powers vested by Code Sections 10.01-1800 et seq. and 10.01-1700 et seq., the Virginia Outdoors Foundation may hold any and all interests in cultural and natural resource properties in the Commonwealth in perpetuity on behalf of and in trust for the people of Virginia.
While VOF holds all rights to several significant tracts of conservation land, the vast majority of its property interest are in the form of open-space (Le., conservation) easements donated by (and, in some cases, purchased from) landowners. Generally speaking, a VOF conservation easement may be defined as a binding, legally recorded agreement between a landowner and VOF, which agreement serves to restrict future development activities on the land to be protected forever under such easement.
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation is governed by a seven-member Board of Trustees appointed by the Governor of Virginia for staggered four-year terms. A Trustee may not serve more than two full consecutive terms. The Governor also appoints the Board Chair from among the Trustees. The Board, supervisory in nature, in tum appoints the Executive Director.
In Fiscal Year 2007 Governor Kaine appointed Frank M. (Hank) Hartz, III, a professional horticulturist and former member of the Goochland County Planning Commission, to chair the Virginia Outdoors Foundation Board of Trustees. The Governor also appointed The Honorable Molly Joseph Ward, Treasurer of the City of Hampton since January 1, 2002, and prior to her election an attorney in private practice, to fill·the unexpired term of the former Chair.
As of June 30, 2007, in addition to Executive Director G. Robert Lee, VOF staff included two Deputy Directors for Easements and a Deputy Director for Stewardship. The VOF operates in eight offices across the Commonwealth. Office locations include: Abingdon, Blacksburg, Charlottesville, Richmond, Staunton, Tappahannock, Warrenton, and Williamsburg. Most offices include consolidated staff focusing on easements as well as stewardship. At the conclusion of FY07, VOF staffing was approximately 40 positions, including full-time, part-time, and temporary staff.
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation has two key focuses of work: 1) to provide strong leadership while assisting in the negotiation, acquisition, and recordation of new conservation easements and 2) to be ever helpful and vigilant in serving as a good and responsible steward of land already protected by such easements. The VOF pursues this work utilizing an administrative structure of four divisions: administration, easements, stewardship, and technical services.
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation administration staff provides agency-wide support in the areas ofhuman resources, finance, easements legal review, and management of records and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Fiscal Year 2007 VOF administration-related highlights include work in the areas of organizational coordination, staff expansion, automated payroll protocol, enhanced staff compensation benefits, redesigned monthly financial statements, and reconfigured Preservation Trust Fund reporting procedures.
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation technical services staff is responsible for all VOF data and record-keeping bases, all electronic devices (e.g., computers, printers, and telephones) used by VOF staff, all interfacing with internal and external communications networks, the VOF Webpage, and Geographic Information System (GIS) and Global Positioning System CGPS) mapping for VOF easements. Fiscal Year 2007 VOF technical services accomplishments include the following: redesigned and enhanced Website, Geographic Information System (GIS) expansion, Internet-based map service introduction, Global Positioning System (GPS) introduction, Easement Management Application (EMA) expansion, and Wide Area Network (WAN) restructuring.
Partnerships with other state, federal, and local government agencies, local and regional land trusts, private, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector are critical to the ongoing success ofthe Virginia Outdoors Foundation. Among state agencies, a particularly close working relationship is maintained with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Virginia Department of Forestry, and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. The VOF also is an active member of Virginia United Land Trusts (VaULT), a nonprofit association, and Land Trust Alliance (LTA), the primary national association for land trusts. An innovative Partners for Preservation initiative, launched with the Virginia Environmental Endowment and local/regional land trusts, is summarized in this report.
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation receives its operating capital from several sources. In fiscal years 2005, 2006, and 2007, VOF was allocated $1.3 million from the Commonwealth of Virginia General Fund. The VOF also receives dedicated, but variable, funding each year tied to the $1.00 recordation fee imposed on land transfers in any Virginia county or city with at least one recorded open-space easement held by VOF. The recordation fee-related funding in FY07 was $835,600. In addition, VOF was awarded grants from several foundations and corporations and received contributions from individual donors totaling $33,145. Incorporating all income sources, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation FY07 total budget was $2.445 million. The VOF Annual Financial Statements for Fiscal Year 2007 are included in the Appendices to this Report.
Conservation Easements and Their Stewardship
Conservation easements -- their negotiation, acquisition, recordation, and stewardship -- are the heart and soul of the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. Easements are the primary mechanism by which VOF works to accomplish its codified mission of preserving open space across the Commonwealth.
Most of Virginia's recent permanent land conservation has been, and for the foreseeable future will be, in the form of less-than-fee interests in real property, specifically, recorded legal instruments known as deeds of conservation easements. The definitive text of conservation easement practice and policy, The Conservation Easement Handbook, (*1) defines a conservation easement as "a legal agreement between a landowner and an eligible organization that restricts future activities on the land to protect its conservation values." The value of a conservation easement is the difference between the property's fair market value before and after the imposition of permanent development restrictions on such property.
The VOF currently holds more than 2,000 conservation easements, covering nearly 406,000 acres, in perpetuity. Such open-space easements protect an enormously important variety and extent of natural and cultural heritage areas statewide, and in so doing profoundly assist in achieving broader public policy goals. The importance of the Virginia Land Preservation State Income Tax Credit Program (the strongest such land conservation incentive program in the nation) and the charitable contribution deduction for donation of perpetual conservation easements allowable under the federal Internal Revenue Service Code cannot be underestimated in fostering gifts of conservation easements to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and other easements holders.
Conveyance and Subsequent Perpetual Stewardship of a Conservation Easement
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation staffworks diligently with landowners to assist and guide them through the process of open-space easement conveyance to VOF. The conveyance process, which may take from a few months to more than a year for completion, typically includes the following procedures: landowner consideration of easement donation, site visit to the subject property by VOF staff, preliminary agreement between landowner and VOF, landowner provision of title report and letter of intent to VOF, research regarding subject property by VOF, action (acceptance, acceptance subject to changes, or rejection) by VOF Board of Trustees regarding proposed easement, follow-up site visit to subject property by VOF staff, preparation of baseline documentation report regarding subject property by VOF staff and subsequent attestation of report accuracy by landowner, final preparation of deed of easement and execution of same by landowner and authorized VOF staff, and recordation of deed of easement.
In a sense, even after the successful completion of the extensive conservation easement negotiation and donation process, once the deed of easement is recorded the long-term work for VOF is just beginning. The "forever" deed restriction imposed with the gift and legal recordation of a conservation easement carries with it a truly awesome responsibility of stewardship and public trust. Accordingly, the recent success of the Virginia Outdoors Foundation in writing and recording hundreds and hundreds of new easements has brought with it a dramatic growth in VOF responsibilities relating to easements stewardship. As more easements have been recorded, requisite stewardship of those easements has increased exponentially.
The stewardship process -- so critical to the integrity of any easements program -consists of a range of activities essential to protecting land on which easements are donated for perpetuity. Key components of the VOF easements stewardship program include: landowner support, education, and assistance relating to such issues as land management practices and interpretation of specific easement provisions (regarding, for example, property subdivision or amendments to deeds of easements); documentation and records management (to ensure, for instance, accurate details of ownership, boundaries, and structures for easements held); regular site visits to lands under easement; and upholding the public trust to ensure correction of easement violations, preferably through voluntary action by the landowner but, where necessary, with counsel from the Office of the Attorney General of Virginia.
The VOF significantly enhanced its already-effective stewardship program in Fiscal Year 2007. Among its many accomplishments, VOF successfully developed even stronger partnerships with public and private partners, including the completion of many new cooperative agreements and Memoranda of Understanding, thereby fostering even more efficient preservation and stewardship of open space throughout the Commonwealth.
The VOF also progressed impressively toward streamlining its processes for easements stewardship and meeting nationally-recognized Land Trust Alliance stewardship standards and practices with benchmarks relating to property baseline documentation, file documentation, records management, site visits, and enforcement of deeds of easement restrictions. Perhaps most importantly, VOF worked diligently to enhance working relationships and focus on the provision of technical support, education, and assistance to those through whom its success of its mission ultimately is made possible: the landowners who so graciously have donated conservation easements on their properties.
Conservation Easements Acquisition and Stewardship: Notable Accomplishments
Fiscal year 2007 was an extraordinary year for the Virginia Outdoors Foundation in advancing its mission of acquiring, recording, and stewarding conservation easements. The numbers are inspiring: 330 easements were acquired, thereby preserving more than 73,300 acres, and 501 properties received stewardship visits.
Properties (from nationally renowned James River working plantations to smaller family farms to pristine and important natural areas to a multi-jurisdictional riparian lands ribbon in a densely populated urban/suburban area) VOF helped in one short year forever to preserve include these notable highlights: Shirley (Charles City County), Glanvilla (King William County), Upper Bremo (Fluvanna County), City of Fredericksburg riparian lands, Wildcat Mountain forestland (Fauquier County), MBC Farm (Burke's Garden, Tazewell County), and Seibel Farm (Botetourt County).
Lands Owned by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation
While the Virginia Outdoors Foundation "preservation of open-space land" mission is accomplished largely through its conservation easements program, VOF also has been instrumental in the success of several other important projects involving acquisition of conservation lands in various regions of the Commonwealth. The VOF currently owns approximately 3,500 acres of conservation land.
The largest VOF land holding is 2,500 acres in the Bull Run Mountains, located in Fauquier and Prince William counties and the eastern-most mountains in Virginia. The Bull Run Mountains comprise one of the largest, relatively intact and unfragmented natural landscapes east of the Blue Ridge in northern Virginia. In Clarke County, the VOF holds 100 acres of Blue Ball Mountain, a distinct geologic feature just west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and jutting into the landscape along the Shenandoah River. In Rockbridge County, VOF owns 876 acres located on and between highly recognizable Little House and Big House Mountains. The VOF holds 40 acres located on Kohl's Island at the confluence of the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay in Northumberland County. Through gifts of property and because of its unique independent agency status, VOF also has been able to assist with the preservation of other important lands.
Partnerships for Preservation Grants Program
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation, in partnership with the Virginia Environmental Endowment, in 2006 initiated an innovative and highly successful mini-grants program, "Partnerships for Preservation: Building Land Trusts in Virginia." The new venture provided significant outreach to and resource support of the land trust community across the Commonwealth as the financial support of both VOF and the Virginia Environmental Endowment fostered the provision of resources to many groups to undertake projects previously not possible due to financial constraints.
Two rounds of the grants were offered through a Request for Proposals distributed to over thirty land trusts statewide. Sixteen grants were awarded to groups working in a broad geographical cross section of the state and representing a wide array of land trust interests. Several trusts and groups formed partnerships to apply for grant funds for work on joint projects. Grants were awarded to well established trusts as well as newly formed groups. Through its Partnerships for Preservation initiative, VOF focused on training and capacity-building for land trusts in the following four areas: training and assistance for landowner outreach and education, educational seminars and training for professionals, natural resource identification and mapping, and stewardship education.
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation/Virginia Environmental Endowment Partnerships for Preservation program was a resounding success across the Virginia land trust community. It enabled many land trusts to develop educational materials, hold seminars and training sessions, identify regional resources, and grow in knowledge of land conservation and land management issues. Ofequal importance, it fostered closer partnerships and enhanced working collaboration among local and regional land trusts throughout the Commonwealth.
Open Space Lands Preservation Trust Fund
Recognizing the importance of open-space land in the Commonwealth and the increasing development pressures on such land, the General Assembly of Virginia in 1997 created the Open Space Lands Preservation Trust Fund (Va. Code Ann. Sections 10.1801-2 (Repl. Vol. 2006)) to assist landowners with the costs of donating open-space easements and to assist in purchasing all or part of the value of such easements. The Preservation Trust Fund (PTF) is capitalized through a 25 percent appropriation of the state General Fund allocation for the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation. In Fiscal Year 2007, the PTF was capitalized in the amount of $625,000.
Easements receiving Preservation Trust Fund allocations are conveyed to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and a local easement co-holder. Landowners of property with scenic, scientific, natural, historic, recreational, or open-space value may qualify for Preservation Trust Fund allocations. Each prospective conservation easement is evaluated by VOF staff and its Board of Trustees using the VOF guidelines for accepting easements. Expenditures that may be reimbursed by Preservation Trust Fund monies include legal expenses, appraisal costs, and other costs incurred related to the easement donation, as well as the purchase price of all or part of the value of the easement.
The vast majority of Preservation Trust Fund awards have been for payment of costs associated with the donation of an easement on a family farm by owners of modest financial means. For most PTF applicants, the costs associated with the grant of an easement create an impediment to such easement donation and the PTF awards of generally several thousand dollars each can make it feasible for such landowners to proceed with their gifts of easements to the Commonwealth.
For the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, Fiscal· Year 2007 was a year of superlatives. Ever mindful of the outstanding contributions of its many and varied partners, the Foundation expresses sincere appreciation to all who so generously gave of their time, talents, and myriad resources to foster, together, open-space land conservation and preservation across Virginia.
(*1) The Conservation Easement Handbook, The Trust for Public Land and The Land Trust
Alliance (Revised 2005).