Conservation easements — Keeping agricultural land in agriculture
As a Wyomingite and Westerner, I recognize the privilege of living and working in this vast and beautiful state. We enjoy clean air, clean and abundant water, intact fish and wildlife habitats, access to locally raised food, plentiful recreation opportunities, and wide-open spaces. I find myself taking these everyday norms for granted. But a recent influx of people to rural places has brought the realization that even a sparsely populated place can change quickly if we do not make an effort to protect and preserve what we value.
As we approach National Ag Day on March 22, we should reflect on the value of agricultural lands and thank those who provide food and fiber to each of us. As we celebrate the many contributions of agriculture — food, fiber, strong economies — we should also consider the many public benefits of keeping agriculture on the land and the tools available to protect agriculture for the future.
Farmers and ranchers face continued threats to their livelihoods, from drought and wildfire to challenging economic conditions and ever-changing policies. Yet agricultural pursuits provide for the maintenance of the very lands that we depend on for their immense public benefits. Without viable agriculture, it is likely that many of our most loved views would be subdivided into smaller tracts of land, iconic wildlife would likely be pushed to smaller ranges, and local beef provided to neighbors and farmers markets would be less available.
So, what can be done to keep our agricultural and conservation heritage intact?
This is what National Ag Day seeks to address by recognizing the benefits agriculture provides and sharing that knowledge with others. But we can go a step farther. We can understand and advocate for tools that help keep agricultural lands intact, productive and working. Conservation easements are just one of those tools.
Conservation easements are voluntary agreements that limit the amount and type of development on private property. These agreements are granted in perpetuity and attached to the land, regardless of ownership. Ownership of the property remains with the landowner and is not transferred to the land trust, other possible easement holders, or easement funders.
Land held in a conservation easement may still be used for other pursuits, such as hunting or ecotourism, and agricultural operations may be adjusted. The Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust prioritizes conservation easements that preserve the ability of land to be used for agriculture in the future. This priority allows our organization to focus on families interested in agriculture and ranchland succession. A conservation easement can provide financial benefit to the landowner through the purchase of the conservation easement and tax incentives. This is often an attractive option for families faced with tough decisions on how to persist in these ever-changing times, providing not only a mechanism for maintaining beloved land and legacies, but also providing a financial mechanism to assist in keeping the land in agriculture.
We are proud of this work. As our nation collectively recognizes and celebrates agriculture, I hope that you share your agricultural knowledge and seek to advocate for its continuance — and the tools that make that happen — well beyond National Ag Day.
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