For the past 17 years, a private real estate partnership owned 1,277 acres of land in Scott County, Virginia. The property itself, predominantly forested and undeveloped in nature, is located in a region characterized by extensive forests and ridges with steep slopes and narrow ridgetops. The land is rich in bit coal reserves, though mining has since ceased. Several headwater streams are also located on the property and drain into the Upper Clinch watershed, which The Nature Conservancy has cited as the number one hotspot in the United States for imperiled aquatic species.
On most sides, the property also borders the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, which provide both ecological value and public benefit. The Forests are home to more than 40 species of trees, 2,000 species of shrubs and herbaceous plants, 60 species of mammals, and 100 species of freshwater fishes and mussels, including 53 federally-listed Threatened or Endangered species. Due to the property’s location, many of these species likely also rely on the property to provide them with food, water and shelter. Moreover, hunting is also a popular recreational activity on the Forests, which constitute around 80 percent of Virginia’s hunting lands.
Clearly, the property owners were land-rich, but they remained cash poor. They owed money to large-scale creditors and did not have the money to complete the due diligence necessary for the proven deposit and testing of coal resources and the start of a mining operation.
With the help of a land trust, the partnership developed a plan for a conservation easement donation that would permanently protect the property’s natural resources.
The partnership and the land trust ultimately agreed to the following terms for the easement:
The protection of this land in Scott County, VA, was possible because of the willingness of private individuals to conserve their land and forego any potential development.
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