According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Virginia has grown rapidly, from 4.6 million in 1970 to more than 8.6 million in 2021. With this growth comes enormous development pressure. Conservation easements, a private legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified entity, such as the Land Trust of Virginia (LTV), that protects land and its conservation values permanently, are the most effective tool to ensure open space remains for all Virginians to enjoy. Here are five ways they help us all:
Good for the economy
Conservation Easements preserve a variety of open spaces, including those with public access, those being used for farming or forestry, and historic sites, all of which are significant to Virginia’s economy. In 2016, The Trust for Public Land conducted a study that found that for every public $1 invested in land conservation, $4 in natural goods and services are returned to the Commonwealth of Virginia. According to the 2017 Virginia Outdoors Demand Survey, the most popular recreational activity in the state is visiting natural areas. ConserveVirginia stated in 2020 that outdoor recreation generates $13.6 billion in consumer spending and $923 million in state and local tax revenues. Heritage tourism generates almost $7.7 billion a year, according to a study commissioned by Preservation Virginia.
Conservation easements preserve farmland, thus protecting the agriculture industry, Virginia’s largest industry by far according to Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). ConserveVirginia’s data indicates that Virginia’s agriculture and forestry industries generate more than 450,000 jobs throughout the Commonwealth. Furthermore, every job in agriculture and forestry supports 1.7 jobs elsewhere in Virginia’s economy. Agricultural commodities produced in Virginia are highly diverse and include, beer, wine, wood products, seafood, livestock, and more and are enjoyed internationally.
Reduces climate change
Conservation easements help combat climate change in two ways. Natural habitats including forests and farmland absorb approximately 15% of the U.S.’s carbon dioxide emissions. They also prevent the additional greenhouse gases that would be the result of more development including deforestation and construction.
Improves water quality
Conservation easements improve water quality by creating natural, protective buffers around our streams, rivers, and lakes. Forest and farmland, unlike pavement, absorbs rainwater and runoff and filters out harmful pollutants. Nutrients and sediments deplete oxygen levels, reduce lights, and obstruct waterways, leading to aquatic plant and animal death. Without proper management, they pose the most significant threat to the health of our waterways, especially the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
and mental health
Conservation easements preserve nature and scenic viewsheds for all Virginians. Current research on the impact of nature on general well-being published in Mind found that 95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside in nature, changing from depressed, stressed, and anxious to calm and balanced. A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that people who lived within 1 kilometer of a park or a wooded area experienced less anxiety and depression than those who lived farther away from green space. Studies have linked higher greenness to reduced obesity prevalence, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality, and improved birth outcomes.
The Land Trust of Virginia leads the Commonwealth, holding more conservation easements than any other private land trust. For more information about their work, please visit http://www.landtrustva.org.