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Old 03-17-2005, 12:07 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Easements may reflect differences in emphasis (CO)

Published: Sunday March 13, 2005
Easements may reflect differences in emphasis
BY CHRIS WOODKA
THE PUEBLO CHIEFTAIN

Conservation easements come in all flavors.

All of them do one thing: Protect the land for future generations. Some organizations are looking at scenic beauty, while others want to preserve a lifestyle. In some cases, keeping water with the land is a top priority.

In Colorado, there are numerous groups - either governmental or nonprofit - which administer conservation easements. In return for state and federal tax credits, which can be transferred or used over time, landowners give up future development rights.

In some cases, the development rights may be purchased, as well.

Here is a brief record of various organizations active in the Arkansas River and San Luis valleys:

Great Outdoors Colorado projects

GOCo works with other agencies to provide funds for creation or purchase of easements. GOCo’s goal is to protect open space, using funds generated by the Colorado Lottery.

To date, GOCo has applied more than $3.4 million toward easements in the Arkansas Valley: Custer County, $1.38 million; Otero County, $1 million; Pueblo County, $874,000; Lake County, $203,000.

Projects in the San Luis Valley total more than $8 million: Saguache County, $7 million; Rio Grande County, $828,000; Alamosa County, $200,000; Mineral County, $50,000.

Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts

The coalition acts as an umbrella agency for other groups and focuses on public policy and awareness. The primary goal is the preservation of open space and the coalition represents trusts holding more than 720,000 acres in easements statewide.

Arkansas Valley Preservation Land Trust

Formed in 2001, the trust has completed one conservation easement and has about 20 more waiting in the wings, said Director John Rose. He explained trusts must wait two years after formation to begin accepting conservation easements. A major goal of the trust is to tie agricultural water to the land to prevent exporting it from farms to cities.

Colorado Cattleman’s Land Trust

Recently, the trust closed on its 100th easement, representing 183,000 acres statewide, said Lynne Sherrod, director. The title to the land is held by the landowner. The goal is to protect ranchland from development and allow ranchers to retain ownership.

Water rights usually are included with the easements, Sherrod said.

“The general trend is to tie the water to the land,” she said. “Where there is irrigated ground, we’re talking about some very senior water rights.” Colorado Open Lands

The group has protected more than 150,000 acres through more than 120 conservation easements since 1981. The largest acquisition was the 80,000-acre Forbes Trinchera Ranch in Costilla County in late 2004. The trust holds a dozen easements in Pueblo County.

Crestone-Baca Land Trust

Formed in 1998 with the assistance of the Manitou Institute, the trust offers conservation easements in the San Luis Valley. It received a GOCo grant for preservation activities in its 177-acre Spanish Meadows project.

Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas

The trust was formed three years ago under the auspices of the Palmer Foundation and concentrates on conservation easements in Fremont, Chaffee and Lake Counties. It has completed a 400-acre conservation easement to preserve a game trail, among other projects.

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District

Formed in 2002, the district has negotiated four conservation easements. The district’s primary goal is to protect water and the rural agricultural economy in Pueblo, Crowley, Otero, Bent and Prowers counties.

Natural Resources Conservation Service

The NRCS Farm and Ranchlands Protections Program pays 50 percent of fair market value to farmers and ranchers with the goal of protecting topsoil. Landowners participate voluntarily and retain ownership. More than $4.6 million has been awarded to protect more than 9,300 acres in Colorado, including more than 1,000 acres in Pueblo County.

Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy focuses on ecology, either buying development rights or accepting donations from landowners, said Director Charles Bedford. Easements are just one tool the group uses toward its goal of preserving nature.

Bedford said The Nature Conservancy has operated for 50 years strictly by acquiring private property rights in order to preserve the land.

“We’re looking for the last of what’s left and the best of what’s left,” Bedford said.

Statewide, The Nature Conservancy holds 99 easements on 86,645 acres. In the San Luis Valley, four easements total 9,027 acres.

Orient Land Trust

Located in Villa Grove, the trust protects lands that include a large bat colony, hot springs, alternative energy use, high altitude dark skies for astronomy, exposed active geological fault, limestone caves, numerous trails into a wilderness area, historic buildings, town sites at an abandoned iron mine and a working ranch. The trust formed in 2001.

Otero County Land Trust Formed by the Otero County commissioners in 2001, the trust works to protect the county’s water resources. About 25 easements have been accepted and about 10 others are pending. A governmental trust may accept easements immediately, as opposed to the two-year waiting period for nonprofits.

Southern Plains Land Trust

Formed in 1998, the trust is negotiating a 1,300-acre conservation easement to add to the 1,280 acres it owns in Baca County, said Director Nicole Rosmarino.

“Our goal is to preserve wildlife habitat and biodiversity,” she said.

Easements under the group do not allow hunting or raising livestock, and it seeks to restore a native short-grass prairie environment.

San Isabel Land Protection Trust

Founded in 1995, the trust has 26 conservation easements in Custer, Fremont, Huerfano and Pueblo counties, protecting nearly 12,000 acres. Its values include protecting ranch and farm lands, forest, wildlife, open space and historic sites.

The group has an active volunteer board to help monitor properties and is concerned with protecting agricultural water rights from development, said Brian Riley, director.
TAX CREDITS

A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a property owner and a qualified land conservation organization that restricts development. Landowners may benefit from several tax credits in setting up a conservation easement.

* Estate tax reduction: Conservation easements can be an estate-planning tool to reduce the value of a sizable estate.
* Property taxes: Property of at least 80 acres, or less than 80 acres without improvements, can be assessed as agricultural. Land assessed as agricultural when a perpetual easement was granted would probably be exempted from future property tax changes as well.
* Federal taxes: In most cases, the Internal Revenue Service allows a 30 percent charitable deduction for perpetual easements held by a qualified conservation organization for a valid conservation purpose. The donation can be claimed in the year of the gift and five subsequent years.
* State taxes: Colorado allows a state income tax credit of up to $260,000 on a $500,000 conservation easement - 100 percent of the first $100,000 and 40 percent of each additional $100,000. The credit is taken against state income taxes. may be carried forward for up to 20 years and it can be sold to a third party.

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Old 03-18-2005, 04:42 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I'm looking at putting nine of my mining claims into a land trust for tax purposes. Makes sense for everyone concerned.
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Old 03-23-2005, 12:16 AM   #3 (permalink)
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These land trusts allow people to 4wheel through the land? Or are they just locking the land off for development?
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Old 03-23-2005, 03:34 AM   #4 (permalink)
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A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a property owner and a qualified land conservation organization that restricts development. Landowners may benefit from several tax credits in setting up a conservation easement.

The main reason to put property into a conservation easement is to restrict developement. Access for motorized activities may or may not be part of the deal, depending on the easement.

Last edited by Denis4x4; 03-23-2005 at 03:36 AM.
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