Big Fork, Montana
July 4, 2004
CONSERVATION EASEMENTS: The Hidden Inevitable Truths
Perpetuity is a long, long time. Things change. Farmland open space it's for the children for future generations. You love your farm. It's a way of life, your heritage. Not much income though. Gotta get a job in town to help maintain it. Conservation easement people come along. They can help you pay for it. Reduce the taxes. Save it for the wildlife. For the kids. They have left for jobs in cities, other states. But they can come back once in a while to enjoy it. Won't ever farm it though, and certainly not the grandkids. They lead another life. They can still sell it. Less money, though. But it will always stay a farm.
Open spaces with people moving in around it. Yours zoned "Ag." Neighbors like open space. Can't farm it. Can't get farm equipment down city streets. Maybe livestock dairy farm? hogs? chickens? Neighbors scream. City says NO. Ordinance against. Gotta pay the taxes somehow. Weeds grow. Weed removal. People like to hike through it and enjoy birds, prairie, maybe even hunt a little. Guns. Population. Trespassers. High insurance.
Guess we gotta sell. No one wants it for the same reasons you no longer do. It's got that easement on it. No buyers. How about a park? Tax-payers can pay for maintaining that. Give it to the city? The county? They back off. It would be a deficit. They need taxpayers, not more expenses. Your non-productive land has raised taxes for other folks. Also as land becomes scarce, prices go up and everyone, even present owners pay more in property taxes. People keep coming. They have to live somewhere. Development moves farther out. Yours under easement simply contributes to that. Preventive measures proposed by land trusts did not solve that problem. Probably made it worse.
Maybe the federal government will take it off your hands. After all, they already own over 80% of the land in the county. They don't want production or income from natural resources. Mills close. Tax dollars now replace revenues. Forest Service budgets go into closing down timber industry, road closures and wildlife studies. They claim expensive road decommissioning is a cost savings. "Let burn" policies replace fire fighting to save fuel laden forests resulting from poor maintenance. Bear studies, expanded wildlife habitats, trailheads, recreation and social projects provide more government jobs. Looks good on the economic scale. Taxpayers throughout the nation pay. More nonproductive land in government hands reduces county tax base.
Maybe the land trust will take it back. Great idea! Restrictions you signed for in your agreement do not apply to them. They can now sell it off for housing development, perhaps a new lumber mill, mining operation or facilities for tourism. And, of course, save a little open space for appearances. And since they are non-profit and pay no taxes, all income can be invested in more land acquisitions. Our tax base continues to erode.
When you signed your conservation easement you agreed to certain limitations and restrictions. The land trust has become the overseer, the monitor, the supervisor of you and your property while you pay the bills. If there is a disagreement and it goes to court, rest assured, they will win and you will pay your attorney fees.
So think again. Do you really want to share your land, your rights, your opportunities with a governing agency? Do you want to sentence your heirs and descendents to the results of this decision you are now making forever and ever, into perpetuity? Also do you now want to condemn the citizens of Flathead County to finance this demise of a $10 million bond to finance the buy-out of private property by non-profit land trusts? They are doing us no favor. It is all for THEM. We have far better, more ethical uses for our hard-earned tax dollars.
253 Pine Needle Lane
Bigfork, MT 59911
406/837-6929 FAX: same