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Nature As A Business: Rewarding Farmers For Conservation

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David Powell, Virginia Department of Forestry
David Powell, Virginia Department of Forestry

The Blue Ridge Mountains are beginning to turn green with buds as spring creeps up the hillsides near Crozet, Va. The valley below gives way to pastures, and Richard Hudson stands in one of them. His family has farmed this land for almost 200 years.

"I'm the 6th generation of my family to own this farm, and there have been livestock here since the beginning," says Hudson. "Livestock's pretty hard on the land though."

Hudson points down to a watering pond that's filling up with mud. Cows have trampled away the grass here and upstream, causing erosion on the farm. In that pasture though, the cows have been kicked out. The pasture will become a forest.

"About 1,500 trees will go in that," says Hudson. "First thing I had to do was get the livestock off of that piece of pasture, so I built a fence to keep them out. Then I had to put down an herbicide that competes with water for the pine trees that are gonna be planted in there and the tree plantin' is scheduled for two weeks so I'm lookin' forward to that."

Virginia's Department of Forestry is paying Hudson about a $1,000 an acre to take his land out of production and return it to forest.

"I've signed an agreement to maintain this to the specifications that they require for 20 years," he says. "But this isn't just money for trees; this is money for what trees do. The forest cleans water."

David Powell is a forester with Virginia's Department of Forestry. He says when you look at a forest just sitting there; it's actually doing stuff for you.

"It helps store water," he says. "It helps even out flows over the year."

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