From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 49 - 8/3/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Local Land Trust Created
"Green River Valley Land Trust" will work to protect open space and family ranching in Sublette County
by Rob Shaul

A local land trust has been created to accept and possibly purchase conservation easements from local ranchers and landowners. According to Tom Davenport of Cora, he and a group of local landowners have been working since February to establish the Green River Valley Land Trust (GRVLT). "Our interest has been to try and preserve open space and family ranching in Sublette County," said Mr. Davenport in explaining the reason behind the effort.

Land trusts are non-profit organizations that hold and monitor conservation easements donated by landowners. Conservation easements take many forms, but typically are a deed restriction which prevent the property from ever being developed or subdivided. The restriction stays with the property even if its ownership changes hands.

Several Sublette County landowners have already donated conservation easements to the Jackson Hole Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy. The JH Land Trust holds the conservation easements for 1,475 acres of private property in the Pinedale area. This includes a conservation easement on 515 acres donated by former Secretary of State Jim Baker of his ranch in Boulder, 400 acres donated by the Carney family in the Upper Green, and 560 acres donated by ranchers John and Judy Andrikupoulos from their ranch between Daniel and Big Piney.

Dave Neary, State Director of The Nature Conservancy, says his organization manages conservation easements for approximately 1,500 acres of private land in Sublette county.

Many of the Sublette County conservation easements being held by the Jackson Hole Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy will be transferred to the GRVLT when it gets up and running, says Mr. Davenport. Many other landowners in the County have expressed interest in donating conservation easements to a local organization, he adds.

For the initial three years, the GRVLT is being sponsored and assisted by the JH Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy through a "Document of Understanding." The Land Trust is providing technical, legal, and administrative assistance. The Nature Conservancy is providing $15,000/year for three years in financial support. Donations given to The Nature Conservancy will be used to fund the GRVLT Executive Director's salary and benefits. Mr. Neary says most of the $45,000 has already been donated or pledged and has come from private individuals in Sublette County. All other operational funding must be raised by the local organization.

Further, the JH Land Trust or Nature Conservancy will hold any conservation easements negotiated by the GRVLT until the local organization is able to manage them, at which time the easements will be transferred to the local land trust.

The original board of directors for the GRVLT will consist of up to 16 members -including 5-7 local ranchers, 2-3 seasonal ranchers, and representatives from the Jackson Hole Land Trust, Nature Conservancy and Green River Valley Cattlemen's Association.

All but two of the initial board members have been identified, added Mr. Davenport. The board of directors will be assisted by an "Advisory Board" which will be headed by Cora rancher Jim Noble.

On Monday, Rod Rozier was hired to act as Executive Director for the GRVLT. Mr. Rozier is the son-in-law of Pinedale rancher Paul Hagenstein.

Two Types of Conservation Easements

Mr. Davenport said the GRVLT will focus on two types of conservation easements - those which are donated by the land owner to take advantage of tax incentives, and those which are purchased by the GRVLT.

Donated conservation easement will be used primarily by landowner who have outside sources of income and aren't dependent on their agricultural operations for their living. For these types of landowners, donating a conservation easement has significant tax advantages, according to Dave Neary. Landowners are able to deduct up to 30% of their income tax bill in any one year based on the value of the conservation easement. Mr. Neary said this value can be quite substantial, and foregoing development rights can account for 40-50% of a property's market value.

A conservation easement also lowers the value of the property for estate tax purposes.

The second type of easement is one which will be purchased from the landowner. Mr. Davenport says this type of easement is aimed at ranchers who are dependent on their agricultural operations for their income, and can't afford to give up the value of their development rights. Essentially, the land trust would raise moneyj18, purchase the development rights from the rancher, and a conservation easement would be placed on the property.

Mr. Neary emphasized that the form of the conservation easement varies from property to property and can be tailored to the wishes of the individual landowner. For example, a rancher may want to place a conservation easement on the bulk of his ranch, but leave out two 40-acre home sites for his children. This and other types of arrangements are very possible and common, he said.

He added, however, that raising private funds to purchase development rights from landowners is very difficult, and could be impossible without a public source of funding. He added that Colorado uses some funds from its state lottery to purchase conservation easements, and in Routt County, Colorado, voters have passed a measure which raises county funds for this purpose.

1st Board Meeting in August

"We're kinda just feeling our way around, but I do think we've got some pretty good people interested in serving and seeing this thing go," said GRVLT board member and Cora Valley Rancher Kip Alexander. He added that there are several local landowners interested in the idea, and that they would rather deal with a local organization. "If they know some of the people on the board, they'll be more apt to do it."

The first board meeting for the GRVLT will be held in late August, said Mr. Rozier.

"I think eventually, it will turn into a pretty good sized land trust," concluded Mr. Alexander. "We've got a lot of open space left."

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