Program aims to preserve forestland

Published 8:06 am Friday, February 26, 2010

FRANKLIN—The Virginia Department of Forestry estimates that the commonwealth could lose more forest and agricultural land in the next 40 years than it has since the founding of Jamestown.

To offset that ominous prediction, the department, with support from Dominion Virginia Power, has developed a new program to protect forestland in Southeastern Virginia called Tomorrow Woods.

“I’m very excited,” said Robert Suydam, forest conservation specialist for the Department of Forestry.

The program is available to forest landowners in the counties of Southampton, Isle of Wight, Dinwiddie, Prince George, Surry and Sussex, as well as the City of Suffolk — all are areas where the Department of Forestry is concerned about the conversion of private forestland to other uses.

The department’s goal is to work with landowners to protect large blocks of working forests by keeping them intact and unfragmented through conservation easements, according to a news release.

Conservation easements are voluntary agreements between landowners and government agencies or land trusts that permanently limit future development of the land to protect its conservation values. The easement agreements are permanent and apply to all future landowners.

Typically, when donating a conservation easement landowners are responsible for paying up-front costs, including fees for attorneys, appraisal, title search and title insurance. The Tomorrow Woods program provides funding towards these costs by reimbursing the landowner directly.

While there are certain caveats and funding caps for the program, it is still a great tool to help preserve the state’s forestland, Suydam said.

“Virginia has seen intense development for the last several decades,” he said, and indications are that will continue.

For more information on the Tomorrow Woods land conservation program, contact Suydam at (804) 328-3031.