In 1961, when Mrs. Segar White Guy inherited her father’s 306-acre tract of unmanaged forestland in Sussex County, she made the long-term commitment to improve the quality of the woodland, according to a news release from the Virginia Department of Forestry.
The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) and Consulting Forester Hunter Darden developed a Forest Stewardship Management Plan that eventually led the family to prosperity and a healthy forest. Now, 50 years and several forest management awards later, the timber on the land was both healthy and profitable for the Guy family. Cash from timber and pulpwood sales supported the family quite well, even covering the cost of their daughter Judi’s college tuition. In late 2010, however, the Guys learned Segar had pancreatic cancer, and, subsequently, the family decided it needed to protect their greatest family heirloom – the forestland, according to the release.
Like the Guy family, many Virginia forest landowners face the issue of how they will pass their land down to the next generation. Private owners hold 13 million acres of Virginia’s forestland; landowners age 55 or older own seven million acres of that. With the decisions made today, these landowners will either protect our farms and forests or convert to them to other uses. For some families, perpetual protection from development provided by a conservation easement with VDOF is the answer.
What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between the landowner and a government agency or land trust that limits future development of the land to protect its conservation values. Conservation easements limit the division and development of the property to protect values such as forestry, agriculture, open space and wildlife habitat. The landowner and the organization, in this case VDOF, create the terms of the easement. The organization holding the easement is responsible for enforcing the easement’s terms, which are perpetual, applying to all future landowners. Landowners continue to own, use and control their land, and are able to sell it or pass it on to heirs.
Segar’s goal was to keep the land in the family and pass it on to the next generation.
“My mother wanted the land to go into conservation easement because of the feature of perpetuity for the land being used for sustainable forestry management using Best Management Practices. The tax benefits were of secondary concern to her," says daughter Judy Guy, in the news release.
John Guy, Segar’s husband of 56 years, adds, “Segar had a deep love of the land. She became actively involved with many forestry organizations that helped her become a good steward to the land.”
After 50 years of working with VDOF, Darden, the Virginia Forest Education Foundation (VFEF) and the Virginia Forestry Association (VFA), Segar’s vision of good forest management came to fruition by becoming certified under Virginia’s Forest Stewardship Program.
“It has been my pleasure to have worked with a landowner that was such a forest steward as Segar Guy," says Darden, in the news release.
"The Guy family is what landowners should be – good stewards of the land and great managers of the forest.”
Zach Dowling, senior area forester for VDOF, said, “Segar was always willing to take good advice and use it in her forest management. She was a good steward of the land and a good partner to VDOF.”
Segar did not limit her interest to her own understanding of forest management. She believed that sharing the knowledge of good stewardship with the younger generation was of the utmost importance.
John Farmer, board president of VFEF, says, “Segar was a forward-looking person who realized the importance of educating the public, particularly young people, on the positive aspects of professionally managed timberland. She believed that her support of conservation programs, sponsored by the Virginia Forestry Educational Foundation, was a way to teach the young citizens of Virginia the role forests play in improving our environment.”
After several months of work, the Guys, their attorney Lee Stephens and VDOF Forestland Conservation Specialist Rob Suydam recorded the conservation easement on April 3, 2013 – nearly two years to the date of Segar’s passing.
“This was such great news," says Judi.
"The irony is it was two years ago we lost Mom. The timing could not have been more meaningful to me.”
Stephens says, “It is a great pleasure for me as a professional to work with people who want most to preserve the dream of their family. I will work with the Guys to achieve whatever benefits are available, of course, but the gift was made regardless of the economic value.”
VDOF’s Suydam says, “Everything about this conservation easement was quite moving. The family’s history certainly brings about strong sentiments, the relationships that were formed and the land itself. The property has a nested agriculture field surrounded by what are obviously well-managed woodlands, with both an open-water swamp and a large tupelo swamp. The Guy family easement was the ideal partnership VDOF had in mind when the land conservation program was first started.”
"The easement is a great tool to ensure good forestry, water quality and wildlife for the future," adds Darden.
About forests and conservation in Virginia
Forestland conservation is an integral part of VDOF’s mission to protect and develop healthy, sustainable forest resources for Virginians, and to work with landowners to protect large blocks of working forests by keeping them intact and unfragmented through the development of a conservation easement. The Guy’s conservation easement is part of a funding program supported by Dominion Virginia Power called Tomorrow Woods. The Tomorrow Woods program successfully protects more than 3,300 acres of land and is available to forest landowners in the counties of Dinwiddie, Gloucester, Isle of Wight, Prince George, Southampton, Surry and Sussex, and the City of Suffolk, where private owners convert forestland to other non-rural uses.
For more information on the Tomorrow Woods program and land conservation, contact VDOF Forest Conservation Specialist Rob Suydam at 804-291-7623.
With nearly 16 million acres of forestland and more than 144,000 Virginians employed in forestry, forest products, and related industries, Virginia forests provide more than $27.5 Billion annually in benefits to the Commonwealth, according to the news release.
Learn more about the forestry department at http://www.dof.virginia.gov/