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September 30, 2015

Fauquier hits 100,000 acres in conservation easements

We wanted to conserve the land to keep development away from it and keep it farmland.
— Harold Burton, part owner of Wainbur Farm, which put Fauquier over the 100,000-acre mark
From press release

Fauquier recently became the first county in Virginia to reach 100,000 acres of land permanently protected by conservation easements.

“This achievement represents the collective investment of hundreds of landowners, farmers and families in a beautiful landscape and strong rural economy in Fauquier County, for generations to come,” Piedmont Environmental Council President Chris Miller said. “Every day, local residents and visitors to the region benefit from that investment.”

Wainbur Farm, a working dairy operation near Calverton, put Fauquier over the 100,000-acre mark, representing almost one-quarter of the county’s land.

Three generations of the Burton family have owned and operated the farm. In 2010, the Burtons entered an agreement through Fauquier County’s Purchase of Development Rights Program to conserve 396 acres of their property. Then, in July of this year, they conserved an additional 167 acres, which pushed Fauquier over the big millstone.

“We wanted to conserve the land to keep development away from it and keep it farmland,” said Harold Burton, part owner of Wainbur Farm. Steve Burton and William B. Foley also own interest in Wainbar.

“The PDR Program focuses on the protection of working farms, and the county leads the commonwealth in PDR participation,” county Agricultural Development Director Ray Pickering said. “Not only did the Burtons conserve their land, but they’ve done a tremendous job of soil and water conservation on their farm.”

Fauquier has protected more than 10,000 acres of farmland with PDR program, funded with local taxes and state grants. The county pays farmers $25,000 for each potential building lot that the program extinguishes.

The family has implemented a number of best management practices, which include having a nutrient management plan and adding buffers to more than a mile of stream frontage.

Part of the total acreage protected through conservation easements in Fauquier includes 4,115 acres of wetlands and 395 miles of streams in the Rappahannock, Occoquan and Goose Creek watersheds. That protected land benefits the area’s wildlife, increases water quality and helps ensure clean drinking water, conservation advocates said.

“When the Virginia Outdoors Foundation recorded its first easement in Fauquier in 1973, private land conservation was still in its infancy,” VOF Deputy Director Leslie Grayson said. “Few could have imagined the breadth of conservation programs and initiatives that are available to Fauquier landowners today.”

The county’s conservation efforts protect 9,932 acres of Civil War battlefields, 39,256 acres of forest and 50,369 acres of prime farmland, according to the PEC.

"This is an amazing conservation achievement,” Northern Virginia Conservation Trust Executive Director Peggy Stevens said. “We're pleased to be looking at opportunities to protect additional land within the more developed areas of Fauquier County.”

Land Trust of Virginia Executive Director Leslie VanSant added: “Fauquier County’s strong plan and vision support growth around its towns, while facilitating conservation easements which preserve the countryside, making this a remarkable and beautiful place to live and visit.”

Fauquier landowners in 2014 permanently protected 1,574 acres from development.

Apart from the conservation easements, Fauquier also has thousands of acres in county- and state-owned parkland, protected from development.
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