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Landowners choosing conservation

With Wyoming feeling the effects of the economic downturn, some landowners are looking at their options for the future.

The population is growing, and a lot more people are expanding into Wyoming’s open space, but not all ranchers or farmers are ready to sell their land for development. In many cases, they are placing their land in conservation easements for future generations.

According to the Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust, conservation easements are voluntary agreements that limit the amount and type of development that can occur on a property in order to preserve its productive capacity and open character. Landowners continue to retain title to the property and all other rights of property ownership. Once development rights have been donated or sold, it is typically “in perpetuity,” which means that the land can never be developed for housing. WSGALT has 41 easements and protects more than 108,000 acres in 13 Wyoming counties.

Pam Dewell, executive director of WSGALT in Cheyenne, Wyo., says “We continue to see an increase in the amount of purchased easements that has remained constant over the past year.” The areas that have seen the most significant growth in conservation easements are Carbon County and the Meeteetse area.

The value of land for a conservation easement is determined by an independent appraiser. “Even with the economic turmoil, we have not seen a decline in the basic value of land,” claims Dewell. Since WSGALT is funded by public sources, the group cannot pay above the appraised price, but there are no limits to the amount of acreage they will pay for a conservation easement.

Key Points

• Land trust has seen an increase in purchased conservation easements.

• Wyoming has 41 easements and protects more than 108,000 acres in 13 counties.

• Conservation easements can help with estate planning.

Conservation easements

The land put into a conservation easements is usually done so for estate planning. Although not a topic that many want to discuss, it is essential if the rancher or farmer wants to ensure the land is passed down from one generation to the next. The University of Wyoming published a Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center brochure to help ranchers and farmers plan for their future. As part of the brochure, Glenn Pauley from WSGALT and C. Timothy Linstrom, an attorney, talk about the benefits of conservation easements.

There are several different options when it comes to putting land into an easement, and it is up to the ranchers or farmers to decide what is best for them. “In the right circumstances, conservation easements can be a very effective and a relatively simple estate planning tool. In cases in which ranch property is the primary asset, conservation easements can reduce ranch values to levels that can substantially reduce, or eliminate, the estate tax entirely,” says Pauley.

“Conservation easements can also assist in transferring a ranch to heirs during the owner’s lifetime. In 2006, the maximum value that a person could give to a child without any gift tax consequences was $12,000 per year or $24,000 for a married couple. A conservation easement can allow parents to pass on the family ranch to their children much more quickly. This is by increasing the amount of acreage that can be conveyed with each gift because the conservation easement will reduce the value of each acre gifted.”

Conservation easements ensure that land will be available for future generations to enjoy. As the population continues to grow and people expand into Wyoming’s open spaces, conservation easements are a way to guarantee that open space.

Robinson writes from Laramie, Wyo.

This article published in the January, 2010 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.