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.