Virginia Conservation Programs Funding At Risk

Virginia Conservation Programs Funding At Risk

The information below on Virginia’s conservation programs funding is from our friends at from VaULT (Virginia United Land Trusts), and we are pleased to share it with our supporters. 

Photo Credit: Melissa Kniskern
Photo Credit: Melissa Kniskern

Virginia’s conservation programs are critical to protecting not just our land but our water, our farms, our food, and our history. Certain legislators are arguing that the mitigation money paid to state and private entities as a result of visually disruptive gas pipeline projects and the transmission line over the James River near Jamestown justifies an overall reduction in state funding for conservation programs.

We disagree. The environmental damages borne as a result of the pipelines and transmission project should absolutely be mitigated, but it should not at the expense of our Commonwealth’s existing conservation programs. We are asking that those be fully funded.

The General Assembly’s Budget Conference Committee has been named and is working to hammer out the differences in the House and Senate budgets. Now is the time to write, call, or visit the Budget Conferees to advocate for restoring full funding to Virginia’s land conservation programs.

Here are the four main points: 

1) Restore Virginia Outdoor Foundation’s (VOF) operating budget to $2 million annually.
2) Fund the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation at $4.5 million, as proposed in the Governor’s budget.
3) Remove restrictions on the Land Preservation Tax Credit. The annual cap should be $50,000 and not $20,000.
4) Allow flexibility that is needed to acquire key pieces of land when they become available. Agencies should not have their hands tied.

Below is contact information for the Senators and Delegates appointed to the Budget Conference Committee:

Senate Finance

Senator Norment (Co-Chair), 804-698- 7503,
Senator Hanger (Co-Chair), 804-698-7524,
Senator Howell, 804-698-7532,
Senator Saslaw, 804-698-7535,
Senator Newman, 804-698-7523,
Senator Ruff, 804-698-7515,
Senator Wagner, 804-698-7507,

House Appropriations

Delegate Jones (Chairman), 804-698-1076,
Delegate Peace, 804-698-1097,
Delegate Knight, 804-698-1081,
Delegate Garrett, 804-698-1023,
Delegate Torian, 804-698-1052,
Delegate Sickles, 804-698-1043,

Additional Information

Background. Virginia has well-established land conservation policies that emphasize geographic distribution of money and an increasing prioritization of public access and water quality protection. Mitigation money will go to mitigate mercury pollution in the Shenandoah Valley, power lines across Jamestown, and pipelines through our most pristine landscapes. Funding these geographic specific projects to re-mediate harm done should not be substituted for the Commonwealth’s established land conservation funding priorities on which citizens and communities rely.

Virginia Outdoors Foundation. The current plan to cut funding for Virginia Outdoors Foundation would shut down the organization, which was created by the General Assembly in 1966 and is Virginia’s leader in land conservation. It protects more than 800,000 acres in 107 counties and independent cities. 

Virginia Land Conservation Funding. The Governor’s budget recommends funding Virginia Land Conservation Foundation (VLCF) at $4.5 million per year. VLCF represents the Commonwealth’s commitment to conservation, as it 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 in all areas of the Commonwealth. They leverage local, federal, and private investment for natural resource conservation by paying no more than 50% of the project costs (state agencies are not required to provide a match). 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, and receive more points if they provide riparian buffers. 

The settlement agreements represent compensation of damages to the resources. VLCF should be unaffected by the mitigation funds, as they are two different things with two different intents.

Land Preservation Tax Credit. Currently, Virginia allows an income tax credit for 40% of the value of donated land or conservation easements, and taxpayers may use up to $20,000 per year in 2017 and $50,000 per year in subsequent years. The land preservation tax credit is a powerful tool for conserving land and promoting conservation easements and the conservation community would benefit from the individual use of credits to go to $50,000 as planned. There is no documentation that a cap on the tax credits will equal a large sum in annual savings. Landowners put their property under easement in 2017 with the understanding that the tax credit limit would go back to $50,000 and to change the rules now after their land has permanently been preserved is unfair.

Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. These agencies need flexibility in order to acquire key pieces of land when they become available. Cutting funding for conservation programs could tie the agencies’ hands.