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No one will ever build houses here

The late Juanita Waugh, Brookston, was so adamant that her 7,600 acres remain as farmland that she took two separate steps. First, she instructed her attorney to word the deed so that the farm could never be sold. Second, she sought to place it in a conservation easement.

Common in Eastern states but not here, a conservation easement is a land protection tool that allows one party to own the land, but which designates monitoring of land use to another party, typically a nonprofit group. Typically, land covered by a conservation easement can be sold, but the easement goes with the property.

In Waugh’s case, her conservation easement, completed after her death, states that the property can only be used for farming and/or wind energy production. The deed prohibits sale of the property.

Key Points

• Conservation easement can protect land from future development.

• Typically, land covered by a conservation easement can be sold.

• A separate statement in the deed prohibits future sale of Waugh land.

Who holds easement

Waugh’s conservation easement is held by the Wood-Land-Lakes Resource, Conservation and Development Council, a nonprofit based in Angola. The RC&D is made up of several counties. However, White County isn’t included. Wood-Land-Lakes has experience executing farmland easements and agreed to assist.

Mike Yoder, Middlebury, a dairyman and chairman of the Wood-Land-Lakes land committee, speaks positively about this latest project.

“By accepting the easement, we reaffirmed our commitment as an RC&D to the important role of helping Indiana protect the most important, fundamental asset known for production of food and fiber — the land,” he says.

Accepting the easement brings along the responsibility of regular monitoring to make sure the easement is followed. In this case, the new owner, St. Joseph’s College, will likely reimburse Wood-Land-Lakes RC&D for costs incurred in monitoring proper use of the land.

Help wanted: Need someone to hold easement

Stan Wanner and Dave Bechman, co-trustees of the Juanita K. Waugh Trust, soon found the most difficult part of setting up a conservation easement was finding a group willing to receive it. Wanner was Waugh’s business manager. Bechman operates FarmFirst LLC, a farm management and ag realty firm, West Lafayette.

“The concept of using conservation easements to protect land from development is common in the East, but not here,” Bechman begins. “We searched for someone who would agree to receive it. There aren’t too many options in Indiana.”

Some state governments receive conservation easements, but Indiana’s law doesn’t provide for this function, Bechman says.

Most of the few groups willing to hold conservation easements in Indiana are more interested in environmentally sensitive land, such as wildlife or wetland areas, the trustees discovered.

After an attorney finally connected them with Mike Yoder, Middlebury, they were able to begin developing the conservation easement.

Wood-Land-Lakes isn’t the only RC&D that holds conservation easements. If you’re not familiar with RC&Ds, start with your local soil and water conservation district to determine which RC&D covers your area.

This article published in the August, 2010 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.