Easement Stewardship

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation views open-space preservation on private land as a partnership with landowners to promote livable, workable, and sustainable landscapes throughout the Commonwealth. Our stewardship program is responsible for making sure that the conservation goals stated in our easements are upheld in perpetuity. We take this responsibility seriously, and we accomplish our work by forging and maintaining strong relationships with our partner landowners.

Stewardship of open-space easements is a challenging endeavor that requires us to serve thousands of landowners on a wide range of complex legal and technical issues. Our highly trained and dedicated team of stewardship staff performs many duties to maintain the conservation values of protected properties. These duties include:

  • Visiting conserved lands to ensure the easement restrictions are being upheld and conservation values protected;
  • Utilizing remote and technological methods of monitoring and tracking easements to augment site visits (aerial imagery analysis, county land records and deed research, easement landowner surveys, notifications from counties, other state agencies and utility companies, etc.);
  • Answering landowner questions regarding stewardship or management of their land (wildlife management, forested lands, agricultural lands, riparian buffers, etc.);
  • Providing review and approval services for activities on the property (construction, timber harvesting, subdivisions, conveyance, ecosystem services, etc.) when required by the easement;
  • Interpreting easement terms and restrictions in easement deeds for the landowner;
  • Maintaining updated stewardship records and inspection reports on VOF easement properties;
  • Resolving easement violations.

We believe the key to successful stewardship is a partnership with landowners built on trust, transparency, accountability, and flexibility. Personal values, best practices, and technologies change over time, and therefore we must constantly adapt to these changes while protecting the easement’s conservation values. It can be a difficult balance, but our stewardship work ensures that these values will remain available to future generations.

Easements sometimes require advance notification and/or written approval for certain activities. If you are unsure whether notification or approval is required, contact a local VOF office and we will help you make that determination. Activities that might require approval or notification include:

  • Changes in property ownership;
  • Subdividing property;
  • Constructing new buildings or structures;
  • Renovating or enlarging existing structures;
  • Signing any other encumbrances on property (e.g. right-of-ways, ingress/egress, other easements or recorded documents);
  • Participating in ecosystem services (wetland or streambank mitigation or restoration programs);
  • Changing use of property (e.g. from forested lands to agricultural lands);
  • Management Plans and pre-harvest plans for harvesting timber.

For complex matters, it may take a minimum of 30 days for VOF to review and approve the proposed activities. Please be in touch to discuss your plans.

When VOF agrees to hold an open-space easement, it makes a permanent commitment to enforce the deed restrictions in order to protect the property’s conservation values. These restrictions apply to the original donor and all future property owners.

VOF views easement enforcement as a partnership between VOF and landowners. This partnership is a crucial element of VOF’s stewardship program. Communication, education, and open and cooperative relationships are key to preventing violations of the easement. Through site visits and inspections, reviews of management plans, and discussions about easement terms, VOF and landowners work together to protect easement land.

In the event of a potential or actual easement violation, VOF has a legal obligation to enforce the easement and protect its conservation values. In some cases, where impairment is negligible or minimal, the most appropriate response may be landowner education and minor restoration of a site. In cases where conservation values are significantly and immediately threatened, legal action may be necessary. Mediation may also be an appropriate response.

Easements can be amended to increase the protected acreage or to strengthen the terms that protect the land. Amendments can never decrease the protection afforded to the land. However, they can help correct errors in older easements and bring outdated terms up to current standards.

If you are interested in the possibility of amending an existing easement, contact your local VOF office.

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