The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 18 - 12/28/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
The Green River Land Trust was formed last summer
by Rob Shaul
The Green River Valley Land Trust (GRVLT) will get its official 501(c)(3) tax-exempt letter from the IRS in January or February says Executive Director Rod Rozier of Pinedale. This will allow the young organization to begin fundraising efforts and start it on the path to full independence. Currently, the GRVLT is in a partnership with the Jackson Hole Land Trust and Nature Conservancy.
These two organizations have and will continue to assist the GRVLT with legal counsel and other organizational support, says Mr. Rozier. Also, until the GRVLT is firmly established, these two older and larger organizations will work with the local land trust to monitor new and existing conservation easements in Sublette County.
The GRVLT has enough private funding to last three years at an operational funding level of $70,000 - $80,000, says Mr. Rozier. The land trust has been managing a "quiet" fundraising campaign throughout 2000. He hopes to embark on a public fundraising campaign once the GRVLT receives the tax-exempt letter from the IRS.
Looking into the future, the land trust must fundraise for a "stewardship" fund says Mr. Rozier. Conservation easements are written to last into "perpetuity," or forever. The land trust's responsibility is to monitor the easement, to ensure the landowner is meeting the terms. For this reason, funds must be set aside to cover any cost associated with monitoring the easement.
The GRVLT also wants to create an endowment to ensure operational funding into the future and to find local sources for legal advice and appraisals.
Types of Landowners
There are three types of landowners in Sublette County the GRVLT wants to target for possible conservation easements, explains Mr. Rozier. The first is "seasonal ranchers" or ranchers who have purchased a ranch and plan to keep it in agriculture, but also purchased the ranch for recreation. Generally, these ranchers don't work on the ranch, but only visit. They make their living from another source of income.
Rod says the GRVLT has already contacted many of the seasonal ranchers in Sublette County through networking or direct calls from himself or board members. Mr. Rozier has found that many of the seasonal ranchers are well educated about conservation easements before they receive a call from the GRVLT.
Family ranchers are the second type of landowner Mr. Rozier identifies. These are the traditional, family ranchers in Sublette County who live on their ranches year round, and earn their living from agriculture.
There are several family ranchers on the board of the GRVLT, including Kip Alexander, John J. Chrisman and Stan Murdock. Mr. Rozier says the family ranchers on his board are the people contacting other Sublette County family ranchers about the services offered by the GRVLT.
Contrary to the seasonal ranchers, Rod says many of the family ranchers are not very well educated about the details and possibilities of conservation easements. "Although easements have been around for a long time, it's a relatively new tool to be used in the West," says Mr. Rozier. He estimates that the first conservation easement ever to go into effect in Sublette County occurred in 1993 - just eight years ago.
Many traditional family ranchers are outwardly suspicious of conservation easements for two reasons. First, they fear restrictions of their private property rights. Second, many of the environmental organizations, such as the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, push conservation easements, and at the same time take public positions in opposition to federal lands grazing.
Mr. Rozier says the GRVLT confronts these suspicions by having the traditional family ranchers on the Board lay the groundwork with other family ranchers in the county. "The reputation of these individuals" carries a lot of weight, he says.
The final type of landowner Mr. Rozier identified is ranchers who already have their ranches on the real estate market. For these ranches, the GRVLT works to find a conservation-minded buyer and link them up with the rancher or his agent. The goal is to keep the ranch from being sold to a developer who will subdivide it.
The goal of the GRVLT is to preserve agriculture and open space in Sublette County. In simple terms, this means protecting the county's agricultural lands from being subdivided.
The tool it uses to achieve this is a conservation easement where a landowner agrees not to subdivide a part or his entire ranch forever. He enters into a conservation easement with the GRLVT, which monitors the easement to ensure the terms are followed.
In return, the rancher protects his ranch from subdivision, decreases its market value for estate planning purposes, and gets some level of income tax deduction from the IRS.
Mr. Rozier emphasizes that while the landowner's financial incentives for entering into a conservation easement can be substantial, they can't be the main reason for taking the step. "If the only reason someone is protecting land is to save money, then they ought to sell it - because they'll probably make more money subdividing it. There has to be an intrinsic conservation ethic."
Rod says this "conservation ethic" on the part of the landowner is key. Ranchers who place conservation easements on part or all of their ranches sacrifice a significant portion of their ranch's market value when and if they go on to sell it, but the "gift" of the conservation easement will last for ever. In his words, it will be their "legacy to the land," and "gift to the future," of agriculture, wildlife and the character of Sublette County.
In a recent opinion piece, Journal editorial board member and family rancher Albert Sommers suggested creating different types of taxes that could be used to purchase conservation easements from ranchers. In Jackson, the Jackson Hole Land Trust is well into a successful fundraising campaign to raise funds specifically for this purpose in Teton County.
However, Mr. Rozier describes the issue of purchasing conservation easements from landowners as a "difficult" one. First, he says the amount of money required may be prohibitive. The value of a conservation easement is generally calculated by assessing the value of the property with its subdividing rights intact and then assessing the value of the property without the possibility of ever being subdivided. The difference between these two amounts is the "value" of the conservation easement. This can be substantial.
Second, even if money is available to purchase conservation easements, a committee will have to be formed which will decide which easements will be purchased. This could be a treacherous exercise.
Finally, "It might be contrary to the concept of creating a lasting legacy through a donation, because it's the right thing to do," says Mr. Rozier.
The GRVLT has a goal of entering into six conservation easements with local landowners in 2001, says Mr. Rozier. His organization is currently drafting one conservation easement with a landowner, and is in discussion with several other ranchers.
"This is the tool we are providing to the landowners," concludes Mr. Rozier. "It is the ability to plan out the development of their ranch forever. I think that's a pretty powerful tool for people who really care about the land." <
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