IS A CONSERVATION EASEMENT FOR YOU?

 

Land owners who have invested years of effort into creating natural habitat got advice January 25,  on how to make sure that their land will not be split up and developed when they are no longer there to protect it.IMG_6310

At the first of this year’s Blue Mounds Area Project (BMAP) winter lecture series, Conservation Conversations, David Clutter, executive director of Driftless Area Land Conservancy explored how conservation easements can create a legal agreement between a land owner and a land trust like Driftless Area Land Conservancy that will limit what future owners can do to the property and protect its conservation value.

Steve Thompson, who attended the lecture, is a landowner who has taken advantage of a conservation easement. “This farm has been in the family for generations,” says Thompson. “When I retired from milking, it didn’t seem likely the next generation would continue in the dairy business, and we didn’t want to see the farm dissolve.”

A conservation easement was an option to keep their 245 acres south of Daleyville away from development and in agriculture and conservation. “ It happens to be land with a wide variety of habitats. We have wetlands, pine relicts, prairies and oak savannas,” says Thompson.

According to the Land Trust Alliance, every day the United States looses 4,000 acres to development.

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Ooops. Ag and wildlife habitat in left photo – gone in photo on the right.

“When I was a kid, you drove past dairy farm after dairy farm. Now you have to look hard to find one,” said Thompson. “Given the price of the land, it’s a real temptation many times to sell off 10 acres or whatever. Now that can’t happen to this farm. We have the legal mechanism in place.”

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Dave Clutter

“Owning land is like owning a bundle of sticks,” Clutter explained. “Each stick represent a right on the property  – like the right to build, to do agriculture, any number of options. A conservation easement lets an owner take certain sticks out of the bundle and extinguishes those rights. A record of these restrictions then runs with the deed as a perpetual document, protecting the land.

Future owners will also be bound by the agreement’s terms, and the land trust is responsible for making sure the terms of the agreement are followed in the future.  Clutter gave an example of a land trust protecting a property.

“We have strong legal precedent on our side,” said Clutter. “For example, someone bought a property in Maine and built a McMansion on the hill. The trust took them to court. They had to remove the house and restore the land.”

This kind of monitoring has a cost, but Clutter noted that Congress has created an incentive to provide tax benefits to those who protect their land with a conservation easement.

“The main purpose of the conservation easement,” Clutter said, “is the peace of mind knowing that your property is protected. In the many years I have done conservation easement work, most land owners are less concerned about tax breaks than about doing what seems right to them for the long term.”

 

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Without conservation easements and other protections, it could be dark times for natural habitat and food production .

“Driftless Area Land Conservancy has a legal responsibility to monitor and defend the property in perpetuity,” said Clutter. “If problems occur in the third generation, or the property is sold to someone who knows nothing about the easement,  it’s our responsibility through annual monitoring to make sure the property is conserved.”

Land owners with a conservation easement still own their land, control access, pay property taxes and can sell, lease, bequeath or transfer the property as they see fit.

“On our land,” says Thompson, “the agricultural options are still open, but we hope someone interested in planned conservation will care for this land. We put in place the legal considerations for doing that.”

Blue Mounds Area Project’s Conservation Conversations take place at the Mount Horeb branch of the State Bank of Cross Plains, 1740 Business Hwy 18-151 E. (Main Street) in Mount Horeb. Each presentation starts at 7 p.m. with refreshments following the talk.

February 22 the topic will be an Overview of some USDA federal programs; specifically CRP, CREP and EQIP by Brandon Soldner – Agricultural Program Specialist in charge of the CRP for Wisconsin State FSA Office.

March 8 the topic will be The Wisconsin Managed Forest Law (MFL) by Jason Sable, DNR Tax Law Forestry Specialist.

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