By Nikki Rovner
One of the most challenging things about conserving important lands in Virginia is putting together the funding to do it.
Virginia has the best land-preservation tax credit in the nation. But if a landowner can’t afford to donate a conservation easement — or if the land is being acquired for public access — even the best tax incentive isn’t enough to get the deal done.
With The Nature Conservancy’s help, the state legislature recognized the problem this year and did something about it.
The General Assembly passed a bill that will help fund longstanding, successful grant programs that have been chronically underfunded compared to similar programs in neighboring states. These grant programs are used to protect natural areas, working lands (like farms) and lands for public recreation.
HB 1398, which was sponsored by Delegate R. Lee Ware, would provide a nearly tenfold increase in funding for land conservation grants — without going beyond existing budget allocations.
This is possible because the bill places a $100 million cap on land-preservation tax credits issued each calendar year, then redirects all funds over the cap amount into the grant programs.
In the first year, this change would provide $13.9 million. These funds are to be used for purchasing conservation easements from landowners who can’t afford to make a full donation and for acquiring land for public recreation.
Our Conservancy government relations team worked hard to secure the passage of this bill, which also enjoyed strong support from the Piedmont Environmental Council, Civil War Trust and other organizations.
The legislation now calls on the governor to include an appropriation in each year’s budget. So we and our partners will be watching closely to ensure that the money is there when the next budget is introduced this December.
Nikki Rovner is the Conservancy’s director of state government relations based in Richmond.