Woodland retreat

A family woodland retreat or other special amenities on the farm are one of many reasons to enlist a succession plan.

There are approximately 16 million acres of forestland in Virginia.

About 9.8 million acres, or nearly 61% percent, are owned by approximately 521,000 individuals and families.

Forty-one percent of these acres are owned by landowners over the age of 65, placing much of this acreage in jeopardy of conversion and changing ownership goals.

The health and integrity of these natural systems that residents rely on for clean water, air, wildlife, recreation and more, are closely tied to management decisions made by family forest owners. Foremost, among a host of management decisions, is whether to keep the land in forest and farms or to convert it to another land-use.

Recent high land values and taxes have tempted or even forced many landowners to sell their land just to meet these financial obligations. With land ownership changing at a rapid pace in Virginia, new landowners continually seek advice in how to best manage their timberland and farmland for future generations.

Some families have owned their land for multiple generations and others for only a few years. Regardless, as they look ahead, many landowners want to keep their land in the family but don’t know where to begin or how to engage the next generation. Even if there are no immediate siblings, the desire to keep working forestland and farmland intact for the next owner requires some planning.

An upcoming Family Forest Landowner workshop series is a place to start. Here, professional advice and experience from other landowners will be shared as well as tools available for families to work with.

These programs help family forest landowners successfully plan the transfer of their woodlands and farmland, intact, from one generation to the next. Speakers include legal and financial experts experienced in estate planning, forest landowners who have successfully navigated the succession planning landscape, as well as natural resource professionals who work with landowners to conserve and manage land. Current and future owners of family woodlands will learn the basics of family communications, estate planning tools and succession planning strategies to help ensure the family woodland legacy.

“Few challenges that Virginia’s family forest landowners face is more important than the issue of passing the family land and carrying its stewardship forward to the next generation,” said Mike Santucci, assistant director of forestland conservation with the Virginia Department of Forestry. “Family forest landowners have myriad reasons for owning woodland. A vast majority expresses a deep connection with the land and wants to ‘do the right thing’. With many reasons for owning forestland, sometimes it’s difficult for landowners to think beyond their tenure and perhaps do what is best for the land so it can continue to be working farm and forestland.”

The management decisions made by family forest owners play a crucial role in maintaining a viable forestland base in Virginia. These family woodlands are relied upon for not only the sustained flow of forest products, but for invaluable natural benefits, such as clean air and water, wildlife habitat and overall quality of life.

These programs have been offered for 11 years in the commonwealth. One of these offerings will be in Southside this year at Longwood University campus beginning Aug. 9 with dinner and opening session 1, and continuing Aug. 10 with breakfast, session 2 and lunch to conclude early afternoon.

Participants should attend both dates. For a fee, class supplies and meals are provided. Further details will be shared once registrations are received.

The workshop is co-sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension and the VDOF, with support from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Virginia Forest Landowner Education Program at Virginia Tech, Virginia Tree Farm Committee, and The Black Family Land Trust.

For more information on all Virginia locations and for online registration visit www.ext.vt.edu/generationnext-va. Space is limited to 20 families. Contact Jason Fisher at 434-476-2147 at X3389 for questions or jasonf@vt.edu for a mail-in application form, or Kim Biasiolli at 434-220-9184 kim.biasiolli@dof.virginia.gov.

Fisher is a district extension agent with forestry and natural resources.