Preserving Managed Forests

Fall 2010

Preserving a managed forest might sound like a contradiction in terms, but there is a way to shield your forest from unwanted development and keep it as a working forest—it’s called a conservation easement.

The Situation: An older couple has a deep love for the forestland that they’ve nurtured, managed and protected for many, many years. But, after witnessing the seemingly endless subdivision of large parcels of similar land, they’re now beginning to question the future of their beloved forest once they pass. It grieves them to think that their forest could become a checkerboard housing development instead of a sanctuary for wildlife and a place where healthy trees thrive. They would also like to pass on the legacy of the forest to their two children.

The Problem: How can this couple preserve the integrity of their forestland, while allowing their heirs, or other future owners, to actively manage the land in a sound, conscientious manner? How can they prevent the land from being subdivided and developed? How can they allow their two children to carve out future home sites on the land?

The Solution: A conservation easement (CE). A CE will allow the couple to prevent future fragmentation of the land while preserving their ability to pursue active forest management and create a limited number of home sites for their kids or other future owners.

Here’s a short list of important information about conservation easements:

  • A CE is a legal agreement where a landowner gives up future development rights on the property.
  • The landowner still maintains all other rights of ownership (harvest trees, hunt, sell, etc.).
  • A CE is voluntary and permanent.
  • The landowner is NOT required to allow public access on his or her land. It is still private property.
  • In some circumstances landowners can be paid for the development rights they are giving up (for example, the Forest Legacy Program buys development rights), but in most cases CEs are donated and the landowner must invest money to cover various one-time CE costs.
  • Significant income and estate tax benefits may be associated with donating a CE.
  • Most CEs require that future forest activities be conducted in concert with a written forest management plan that is developed by the landowner and a professional forester.
  • The organization that accepts the CE is responsible for monitoring and enforcing the CE’s restrictions.
  • A CE “runs with the land,” meaning that it applies to all future owners of the land.

Conservation easements are a great tool for many landowners, but they certainly are not for everyone. (After all, you are limiting future land use and are lowering the value of your land.) However, for some, the peace-of mind knowing their forest is forever protected is priceless.

The key ingredient to creating a CE is to team up with an organization that will quarterback the process and help secure the easement. Fortunately, there are numerous highly qualified CE groups in the Inland Northwest, each with a niche focus for different types of CE projects.

If you are interested in discussing a potential CE for your land, contact IFM or one of the following:

  • Clark Fork–Pend Oreille Conservancy, Phone: 208-263-9471,
  • Inland Northwest Land Trust, Phone: 509-328-2939,
  • Palouse Land Trust, Phone: 208-669-0722,
  • Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Phone: 509-255-6183,
  • The Nature Conservancy, Phone: 208-691-2468,
  • The Vital Ground Foundation, Phone: 406-549-8650,

~ Mike Wolcott

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