One of the biggest threats to Virginia's 16 million acres of forest is conversion to commercial and residential land uses, like housing developments. One of the biggest factors contributing to this threat is the fact that the population of forest landowners in the state is rapidly aging and that most of these landowners have not planned how they will transfer their lands to their heirs, a process known as estate planning. Nor have these aging landowners discussed with their heirs what their long-term goals and wishes are for their forest lands.
Unfortunately, this lack of planning and family discussion often means that forests are, by default, divided equally amongst several heirs into small parts (a process known as parcelization), are sold to developers by those heirs who have little interest in managing a forest, and eventually converted. The Generation Next Program was launched by the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) and the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) to combat this challenge through the aim of keeping Virginias family-owned forests intact and in the family by encouraging and training forest landowners and their families to plan the intergenerational transfer and long-term fate of their forests.
Through training materials and workshops co-facilitated by ecologists, attorneys, and financial planners, the program educates landowners and their families about the conservation, legal, and financial tools that are available to them, and help them start a difficult yet rewarding 9-step process to complete a Legacy Plan for their forests. Although hundreds if not thousands of people have participated in our workshops or received our training materials, it is unclear what the impacts of the program are. Katie Clark worked with mentors to determine if the Generation Next Program is having the desired impacts in terms of improved estate planning, engagement of heirs in the management and conservation of their forests, and how much forests have been parcelized and converted to other land uses. This research identified the strengths and weaknesses of the program and ways to improve its impacts with time, hopefully ultimately resulting in better results to promote protection of forest ecosystems on private lands across Virginia in the future.
Faculty MentorDr. Robert Rose
Katie Clark '24, Major: Environmental Conservation, Major: GIS