(This is from
azanderson.org under environmental issues.)
Conservation easements -
too good to be true
posted to KBC 12/21/03
By granting a conservation
easement, the land will never belong to an
individual again - not you, nor your heirs.
The easement will be attached to your deed. It
is simply gone - forever.
Conservation easements have become a popular
way to prevent development rights. The concept is
to preserve farm land, while at the same time,
preventing urban sprawl.
Easements have also become a way that farmers and
ranchers who are operating on a thin profit margin
have found as a quick fix to their cash flow
By signing land up in a Conservation Reserve
Program (CRP), they receive an annual payment for
a given number of years, depending on the program
they have selected. They lose control of the land,
as it now comes with regulations and restrictions.
Before landowners make a decision to sign their
property up for "perpetuity," which means forever,
they should give very serious thought and ask
someone for advice, who will present both the pros
Land trusts and conservancy groups are courting
potential landholders to turn their land over to
them. They give all the reasons why they will
forever protect your precious property; but is
there another side to this story?
If a decision is made to forever protect your land
by granting an easement, it will never belong to
an individual again - not you, nor your heirs. The
easement will be attached to your deed.
If someday your kids inherit your property and
choose to fulfill a new vision, it can never be
done. In fact, they are stuck with a piece of
property that may have no value to them, and
basically the only people interested in
purchasing the property as a whole would be a
land trust, such as Nature Conservancy or
The University of Illinois describes a
conservation easement as a legal document that
spells out what can, and what cannot be done on a
In most cases, a conservation easement will
prohibit or limit development of the property.
Each easement is unique, and is written to reflect
the wishes of the property owner and the character
of the property.
Easements "run with the land," which means that
future owners, no matter how they acquire the
land, must abide by the terms of the easement.
Easements are "donated" to a conservation
organization or government entity, which accepts
the responsibility to monitor the easement and to
enforce its terms. The holder of the easement has
no ownership in the land - just the responsibility
to ensure that the easement is being followed.
"A property owner must understand that by
granting a conservation easement, he is not only
restricting the future use of his property, he
is actually conveying an interest in the
property to a government agency," according to
property rights advocate Rachel Thomas.
Just ask the bank what you're good for before
and after the easement deal. The bundle of
rights to use the land is so severely diminished
that the farmer, rancher or forester is
essentially a tenant on his own land.
The use of conservation
easements is just a step from 100 percent private
ownership to 100 percent government ownership of
property. A financial crisis can arise,
necessitating the use of the land for equity, but
the equity, essentially, no longer exists.
The University of Illinois says easements can
provide tax benefits to the property owner. These
benefits can be a charitable deduction, a property
tax reduction in Illinois, and a reduction in
An important consideration for many owners is that
the land remains in their ownership and can be
sold, or otherwise transferred, in the normal
The Paragon Foundation
published a fact sheet called, "Myths about
conservation easements," which was written
by the Landowners Association of North Dakota (L.A.N.D.).
"Selling property with a conservation
easement will be easy?"
"No. Not many people are willing to share title
with an organization or agency, as well as banks
willing to lend money to purchase property with
a split title."
Local communities and school districts are finding
the tax burden is being placed on fewer and fewer
property owners. Land trusts, environmental
organizations, and the government are controlling
more and more of the land, and they pay no taxes.
Another question answered by L.A.N.D is,
"If I sell a conservation easement, I can still
use my property, just as I always have?"
"No. You give up control of all property covered
in the easement." FOREVER, there will be an
organization or agency with the power to look
over your shoulder and approve or disapprove
Most easements require you to give
access at all times, even during the growing
season, when access can damage crops. You may have
to obtain approval for weed control, grazing, or
other management practices. Many easements allow
"approved" practices, but may not list specific
practices. That's a loophole that allows the
easement holder to change the list of approved
practices, without your consent.
Private conservation groups, environmental groups,
and land trusts, as well as governmental agencies
can help landowners develop plans to conserve
land. A landowner can be absentee and his property
managed by a farm management service, and he may
not realize his land has been signed away as a
Researchers who are following this trend, are
connecting the conservation easements to the
corridors designed in the Wildlands Project. A
recent article by property rights specialist, Ric
Frost, quotes Dave Foreman, founder of the Earth
First movement, as saying he considers
conservation easements as the keys to the
"If we identify a ranch that is between two
wilderness reserves, and we feel it will be
necessary as a corridor, we can say to the
rancher, We don't want you to give up your
ranch now, but let us put a conservation easement
on it. Let's work out the tax details, so you can
donate it in your will to this reserve system,"
Frost quotes from Listening to the Land by
Derrick Jensen (Sierra Club Books).
Whether you are considering granting a
conservation easement or not, you should ask
yourself a few questions.
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis Upholding rural
someone want to pay to control my land, and where
is the money coming from?
have signed away my rights forever, but can they
transfer their rights?
my $1,500 an acre property should become worth
$30,000, will I have regrets?
What will my kids have left, if I do this?
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Joyce Morrison lives in southern
Illinois. She is a chapter leader for Concerned
Women for America and she and her husband, Gary,
represent the local Citizens for Private Property
Rights. Joyce is Secretary to the Board of
Directors of Rural Restoration/ADOPT Mission, a
national farm ministry located in Sikeston. She
has become a nationally-recognized advocate for
The most infamous
of the "Green Gang" that engages in foisting
Conservation Easements onto unsuspecting,
uninformed, naive and ill-advised ranchers and
land owners is the Nature Conservancy (TNC). The
Nature Conservancy is constantly on the lookout
for distressed ranchers and landowners who can be
beguiled into becoming "Willing Sellers".
Ranchers are the most susceptible owing to their
proud, independent and self-reliant nature.
Rancher's feel that the are "smart enough" to deal
with Nature Conservancy lawyers. Ranchers ALWAYS
lose - then are too proud to admit their folly.
Conservancy is the most accomplished "land
launderer" in the United States, if not the
World. It is a $ Multi-Billion operation. Recent
exposes in the Washington Post, Washington, D.C.
was most revealing in a very negative way. Many
view The Nature Conservancy as a criminal
enterprise that survives only due to public
misinformation and its ability to hide behind the
"politically correct" veil.