We applaud the commitment of the Shenandoah County Supervisors to restore funding to the county’s Conservation Easement Authority (CEA) to ensure Shenandoah County’s continued progress in land preservation – a community-wide benefit.
The Alliance has long been on record in support of permanent funding for county-level land protection programs—a proven tool to preserve rural character, strengthen agriculture and keep local taxes low. And, just a small amount in these programs goes a long way. Local investments in land protection can be readily leveraged many times, through state, federal, and private funds. But the essential first step is the allocation of local funds.
Investments in land protection also generates savings in public spending. We know land in farming means the county has to spend LESS on roads, schools and other services than land in residential development. Conservation easements are also good for our agricultural economy because they preserve prime soils and productive cropland, fields and forests. Protected farms also preserve our rich history, clean water, wildlife habitat, boost tourism and ensure our high quality of life.
In 2008, Shenandoah County Supervisors, following recommendations from the county’s Comprehensive Plan, created the CEA to secure voluntary conservation easements on prime farm and forested lands. In 2011, the county designated $100,000 to support the CEA, making the county eligible to receive a $100,000 matching grant from Virginia’s Farmland Preservation Program. The county’s investment was then put to work and it was leveraged more than nine times to secure a conservation easement on a county working farm appraised at over $1 million in easement value. Unfortunately, funding for the CEA was discontinued in 2014 making the county unable to apply for and receive funding from the State’s matching grant program.
Despite the lack of funding, the CEA maintained excellent volunteer members who continue to be committed to the program. They have continued to refine the program’s selection criteria and talked to qualified landowners in the county about conservation easements, so the CEA is ready to hit the ground running to do its part in maintaining the county’s rural, agricultural character, as envisioned in the Shenandoah County Comprehensive Plan.