Guest column: Invaluable lands are protected by conservation easements
Your local land trust accepted the donation of a Conservation Easement recently on a 134-acre private in-holding surrounded by U.S. Forest Service lands, just steps from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.
Under the stewardship of the landowners and Continental Divide Land Trust (CDLT), the land will be forever protected from development. It will remain wild and natural, a permanent refuge for birds, animals, and insects. The quality of this land is outstanding, providing pristine habitat along the river, pond, open meadows, aspen groves, and spruce forests.
Per the terms of the Conservation Easement agreement, all development rights on the property are completely extinguished.
I can image what could have happened on this parcel if it were sold for development.
There could easily be a “Hunting Lodge” of grandiose proportions enabling the new owners to treat this little valley and the adjacent Wilderness Area as their private reserve.
There are other possible scenarios equally as frightening. Permitted land uses under State law and County zoning would have allowed from three to seven mega-homes in a private enclave with our Wilderness Area as their backyard.
But that won’t be the case. Thanks to the generous donation of the landowners through the Conservation Easement, the only uses that will continue are those the owners have enjoyed for the last 100 years ” hiking, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, and ranching.
If we didn’t have the concept of the Conservation Easement as a tool to help protect natural lands, the owners would have had very few preservation options and none of them with the assurance of permanence like a Conservation Easement. Deed restrictions can be lifted, zoning can be changed, development plans can be amended, and Forest Service lands can be traded.
And if we didn’t have the incentives of tax based Federal deductions and State tax credits, then we would have even fewer landowners willing to make the hard-thought decision to permanently protect their land with a Conservation Easement.
Unfortunately, as with any tax incentive program, there are bad actors who try to manipulate the system and take an unfair benefit for themselves. These are the people who get the attention of authorities and make the headlines. The entire Conservation Easement concept becomes clouded with suspicion and some administrators and politicians threaten to trash the whole program.
It appears that the appraisers, land trusts and landowners who are doing the suspicious conservation deals are working outside of the standards and practices of mainstream land trusts. The actors in the conservation deals under investigation by the State are not members of the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts (CCLT), as is Continental Divide Land Trust.
In fact, the conservation community helped initiate some of the state and federal efforts to end abuses of the easement tax incentives, and continues to work with public officials to accomplish this.
The Conservation Easement and Colorado tax credit program is needed as a cost-effective way to protect the beauty of Colorado. Reputable organizations like CDLT are doing good work within the spirit and letter of the law to help protect what’s left of the irreplaceable natural environment in communities like ours across our state and nation.
You can help by contacting your legislators, representatives and senators and tell them you support land conservation programs and efforts to prevent abuses. And support your local land trust, Continental Divide Land Trust. You can learn more at http://www.cdlt.org.
Together, we can do more to protect the natural beauty of Summit County.
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