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History of the Land Trust (Part 2)
While land conservation efforts began in the Eastern Panhandle 25 years ago (see Part 1 the 2019 Landscapes) such work moved into high gear only after county and national programs began offering landowners money – not just federal tax deductions – for protecting their land.
“I don’t make enough in a year for a tax deduction to matter,” Sam Donley, a farmer and early easement landowner once explained.
Thus, while the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle completed three conservation easements in its first five years, it did 30 in the next decade, working with newly formed county Farmland Protection Boards, the USDA’s National Resource Conservation Service and the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program.
The county Farmland Protection Boards were authorized by the 2000 West Virginia Voluntary Farmland Protection Act, whose adoption was promoted by a group of Panhandle residents. Two years later the same group succeeded in getting funding for the FPBs though an increase in the transfer tax.
Clint Hogbin of Berkeley County and Cam Tabb, Jane Tabb, Effie Kallas, David Hammer, Lavonne Paden and others, working with newly elected state senator John Unger, collaborated in the drafting and lobbying for this legislation. Success stemmed from the emphasis that the program was voluntary and that farmers, such as Cam Tabb, advocated it as a way to preserve farmland.
Cam Tabb had been one of the original convenors of the Land Trust, and the two efforts – that of the Land Trust and the one for Farmland Protection Boards – became intertwined as Effie Kallas and Lavonne Paden joined the Land Trust Board. The Land Trust had experience in doing conservation easements and was able to offer help to the new Farmland Protection Boards with documentation of the state of a property at the time of an easement as well as with content for the easements themselves. It became co-holder of many of the early FPB easements in Berkeley and Jefferson Counties.
The Farmland Protection Boards could access matching funds for conservation easements from the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Beginning in 2004 additional easement money began flowing from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) to preserve parts of the five congressionally-recognized Civil War battlefields in Jefferson County.
Noah Mehrkam, then an employee of the Civil War Trust, brought the ABPP program to attention of the Land Trust. The $1 million allocated for this project ultimately protected 520 acres in six separate conservation easements in the Shepherdstown and Summit Point battlefields, often paired with money from the Jefferson County Farmland Protection Board and, in three cases, from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. (Additional ABPP money for Land Trust-led easements flowed in 2011-19, bringing the total to nine, protecting 826 acres,)
As result of this activity, the Land Trust closed seven easements in 2004, beginning a period of intense activity in conjunction with the FPBs, particularly the Jefferson County FPB. By the end of 2019, the Land Trust held 50 easements, protecting over 4800 acres in the Panhandle, with the majority of those easements in Jefferson County and co-held with the Jefferson County FPB – sometimes with the Land Trust as the lead holder and sometimes with the FPB as the lead holder.
Through all of this, the Land Trust has remained an all-volunteer organization. Members of the nine-person board have done the work of negotiating, documenting and monitoring the easements, drawing on contractors on occasion but keeping control in the hands of the volunteer, unpaid board members.