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Land Trust to honor woman for conservation efforts

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Land Trust will honor a woman who helped get special legislation passed that will help protect wildlife habitats, forests and farmlands across the state.

Beth Wheatley, the Nature Conservancy's director of government affairs in West Virginia, will receive the Guardian of the Year Award from the West Virginia Land Trust at its annual dinner Thursday for helping to develop the Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund.

That fund will soon provide $1.6 million a year to help save habitats, forests and farmlands throughout West Virginia.

"If, 100 years from now, there are Cheat Mountain salamanders, clear trout streams, forests resilient to the impacts from invasive pests and diseases, a diverse economy sustaining jobs and healthy communities for our children to explore and play, it will be in large part due to land and water conservation.

"I am very fortunate to be working with landowners and others to conserve West Virginia's special places," Wheatley said.

The West Virginia Land Trust works to conserve and protect "special places" from unwanted development.

"Protecting farmlands, forests, urban green spaces and other natural areas takes imagination, knowledge and a practical approach. With natural areas vanishing at a rate of eight square miles each day, the time to act is now," the Land Trust states in an invitation to Thursday's dinner.

Nationally, the Land Trust Alliance preserved more than 10 million acres throughout the country between 2005 and 2010.

"In 2008, I worked with people in agriculture, hunting and fishing, landowners and conservation communities to develop the Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund.

"We were one of the very few states without such funding until that legislation passed," Wheatley said.

Wheatley said the Nature Conservancy "works in partnership with other land conservation groups and government agencies like the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources."

Richard "Chap" Donovan, president of the West Virginia Land Trust's board of directors, said, "We work with landowners to preserve land. There are also some tax benefits that reduce their income or estate taxes.

"In the case of agricultural lands, it is a way for families to pass down land from generation to generation without creating a large taxable estate, but preserving the land for agricultural use.

"Development is limited in perpetuity," Donovan said. "Some activities can occur, but they must be balanced with conservation values."

Wheatley said one of her most memorable projects was winning protection for the Shalimar Farm in Pocahontas County through the Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund.

"The Shalimar Farm includes forest and farmland property very important in terms of wildlife habitat. It is also very important to people of the state. When you ride the Cass Scenic Railroad, you look out on the Shalimar Farm," Wheatley said.

Donovan, an accountant for Arnett & Foster in Charleston, said, "One of the best known preserved sites is Fallingwater in western Pennsylvania. The land around Fallingwater is protected from development."

Fallingwater is the famous house built over a waterfall between 1936 and 1939, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, America's most famous architect.

"We are not an advocacy organization. We are not pursuing a political agenda. We leave that to others. Our role is to work with landowners," Donovan said.

"No matter what political party or economic sector they are in, almost everyone in West Virginia has a special place they would like to see saved. Virtually nobody wants to see the whole state turned into a parking lot.

"We try to work with all sectors," Donovan said.

The West Virginia Land Trust's executive director Terrill Ellis said, "Beth has done a tremendous amount to bring resources to land conversation by the work she did to get the Outdoor Heritage Conservation legislation passed.

"She did a great job getting people from divergent groups to agree on a common cause."

Ellis, who also chairs the Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund's board of trustees, said, "Hopefully, we will be issuing our first round of grants in March. About $1 million will be available."

The Land Trust is also giving its annual Special Places Society Award to the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust in the Eastern Panhandle.

"The Cacapon and Lost Rivers Trust is working to preserve land under a lot of development pressure, as the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area continues to expand west," Donovan said.

"Preserving a corridor of land from development will help maintain the quality of the watershed and wildlife habitats," he said.

The Land Trust Future Conservationists Award will go to the Buckskin Council Boy Scout Troop 31 for clearing and rebuilding trail paths in Kanawha County.

Tickets, which cost $100, may be purchased by calling 203-346-7788 or emailing wvlt@te-associates.com.

The reception begins at 6 p.m. and the dinner at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Charleston Woman's Club at 1600 Virginia St. E. A live auction will be held at 8 p.m.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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