By KIMBERLY BREWSTER
The holidays are a great time of year to reflect on the tradition of gift-giving. A gift is something voluntarily passed by one person to another without the expectation of compensation.
However, this doesn’t mean that the giver doesn’t benefit from the process. Gift-givers are often filled with joy knowing that they’ve lifted the spirits of a friend or family member.
Giving a gift to a child is especially rewarding. Who doesn’t love to see a child’s face light up when he or she receives a present? The tradition of giving from older generations to younger generations is highlighted at Christmas time; we have all received from those who have preceded us.
The conservation of our soil and water resources is one of the most important gifts we can give to future generations, as these natural resources were a gift to us. A great option for “paying forward” our natural resources is the preservation of land through a conservation or agricultural easement.
The Coalition of Ohio Land Trusts defines a conservation easement as a voluntary agreement between a landowner and an entity qualified to hold the easement, usually a government entity or a non-profit organization such as a land trust.
The value of the easement can be either sold or donated by the landowner, although the land remains in private ownership. This transaction includes the relinquishment of certain rights as agreed upon by both parties, such as the rights to develop the property.
The easement and the limits on how the land can be used in the future are permanent and apply to any future owners of the property. There are many reasons a property owner may be interested in selling or donating a conservation easement.
A conservation easement can be an attractive option for a landowner who wishes that special natural or historic features remain protected on their land. A landowner may also wish to protect wildlife habitat or the recreational value of their land.
Protect from development
A landowner may want to protect their land from future subdivision for housing and commercial or industrial development. An agricultural easement may be appropriate for the owner of a family farm who wishes to keep the land in agricultural use for future descendants.
Finally, land preservation is one of the best tools for the protection of high quality watersheds that could be impaired by future land use changes and development.
A conservation or agricultural easement can be designed according to the desires of the landowner. The easement may apply to the entire property or just a portion of the property, such as a stream corridor.
If a landowner plans to add structures to the property in the future, these portions of the property can be removed from the easement. Other practices such as hunting, farming and timber harvesting may be made permissible through the agreement.
The benefits of placing your land into a conservation easement extend beyond the protection of natural resources. If the easement is donated to a nonprofit land trust, the value of the land may be considered a tax-deductible donation, in addition to other potential tax benefits due to a reduced land value. Alternatively, an easement can be sold by the landowner for the value that is lost by keeping the land undeveloped.
Many federal and state programs are available to assist in the development of a conservation or agricultural easement on your land. Examples include the Clean Ohio Fund’s Green Space Conservation, Farmland Preservation, Brownfield Revitalization and Recreational Trails programs.
The Ohio Forest Legacy Program is another option that assists landowners with their forest management and protection goals. Several assistance programs are also available through the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
A good first step is to contact your local soil and water conservation district to discuss your conservation goals and future desires for your property.
So, as you reflect on the past year and plan for the next, consider giving the gift of a healthy and productive natural environment to future generations through land preservation. For more information about land preservation and to find your local land trust, visit the Coalition of Ohio Land Trusts on the web at www.ohiolandtrusts.org.
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