Earth Notes - Conservation Easements

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Conservation Easements

The problem has been widely reported: Each year, swaths of ranch and farmlands are sold for development, and there's no turning back.

Dave Jenner, a rancher in central Arizona's Yavapai County, didn't want to see that happen to his family's W Diamond Ranch near Skull Valley. In 2008, Jenner put more than 4,000 acres into an agricultural conservation easement.

Jenner can still run cattle on his land, and he can pass it on to his heirs. But the easement does mean that there are permanent conditions placed on the deed. The land can't be carved up and sold for development. And so its semi-arid grasslands, forested uplands, and vibrant riparian areas are protected.

This comes as welcome news for conservationists worried about rapid population growth in Arizona.

Other western states, such as Colorado, have been more proactive than Arizona in encouraging the use of easements. That's partly because Colorado boasts ample funding to help landowners offset the costs of protecting their land. Aside from the federal tax breaks associated with a land donation, Colorado landowners get state tax credits too. If they can't apply the credits to their own taxes, they can sell them.

Even without these extra perks, conservation easements can be a good deal. Landowners gain tax credits, and an easement lowers the tax liability for those who later inherit the land.

But for landowners like Dave Jenner, the greatest benefit comes in knowing that their beloved land will remain undisturbed for generations of people and wildlife to come.

-Anne Minard