Farm land is not the first image that comes to mind when thinking about conservation land. There are two aspects to conservation on agricultural land. The first involves programs that foster sustainable farming practices. The other provides financial incentives that keep agricultural land from being transferred into other uses.
Best Management Practices on agricultural land include protecting water resources from pollutants that can either cause contamination from slow buildup by long term usage or sudden accidental release. Other BMPs include the control and processing of animal waste; soil protection through grazing control, crop rotation, and nutrient management (lest we repeat the dust bowl); proper irrigation usage; silt management; and other methods that protect the land for future generations of farmers.
For more detailed information on farming BMPs see this September 2013 publication: http://gaswcc.georgia.gov/sites/gaswcc.georgia.gov/files/2013AgManual_Intro%2BCh1.pdf
The other aspect is the effort to keep agricultural land in use as agricultural land. For the last 40 years America has seen a decline in medium size family farms. There are a number of reasons for this but research indicates that one is that young people aren’t as willing to make the financial investment required, work 12-16 hours a day, and possibly earn less than a similarly situated farmer made 30 years ago. Family farmers also frequently have to work a non-farm job to make ends meet. One way to help farmers is to offer transferable tax incentives through conservation easements. These incentives can allow them to purchase equipment, provide a financial safety net, or pay off their land mortgage. We don’t currently hold any agricultural easements but we hope to have some soon. We want to be involved in helping preserve family farms. Please contact us with any questions or comments.
So, if we are supposed to be taking care of conservation land should we have forestry crews on some of our properties this fall? Yes, we should.
First let’s consider the history of forestry in Georgia. If you want the long answer go here: http://www.gatrees.org/about-us/history/index.cfm and here: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/geography-environment/environmental-history-georgia-overview
If you want the short answer: Timber production has been very important to Georgia landowners and businesses starting in the 1930s. Timber companies owned huge portions of land across the state. Most undeveloped land has been used for pine production. Land planted as a pine plantation does not make a good forest.
Frankly a planted pine forest is really only ideal for pine harvesting. But they do offer value for water protection, soil structure and enrichment, carbon sequestration, and of course there are some animal species that thrive in such an environment. These land tracts also play an important role in alleviating pressure on natural forests for timber and fuel wood production. There is still some good environmental value in a properly managed forest plantation.
A natural forest has a variety of trees and a natural density. A natural density is such that the tree canopy keeps the forest floor from becoming thick with growth, but not so dense that trees aren’t able to reach their potential. The tree population also has a diversity of tree ages unlike our properties in which the trees were all planted at the same time.
The properties that we are thinning were clear cut and replanted with pine seedlings at some point in their history. These properties are so dense now that the trees are crowding each other which caused the forests to fall apart. The weakest trees died. Even the comparatively strong trees aren’t all that good because of all of the competition for sun, water, space and nutrients that they have dealt with throughout their lives. As trees fall they become potential hosts for pine beetles which can devastate a forest.
We have consulted with Georgia DNR foresters prior to cutting any trees and use their best practices recommendations when we plan the harvests. During the initial harvests we selectively cut between 40-50% of the trees in a pine plantation area. This allows for the remaining trees to begin reaching their potential. As a rule of thumb a pine tree lives about 40 years. Our properties haven’t been harvested for at least 20 years which is about 8 years too long. This means we will get on a cycle of thinning trees every 8 years and after two more harvests we’ll have the forests in a natural state.
The harvest process leaves behind what foresters call logging roads but we call hiking and biking trails. They also leave behind a couple of landing areas which can become parking areas, camping areas, and other uses. We also receive revenue which we reinvest in to the properties.
So yes, we are cutting trees. But our forests will be all the better for having done so.
As defined by Wikipedia:
a private, nonprofit organization that, as all or part of its mission, actively works to conserve land by undertaking or assisting in land or conservation easement acquisition, or by its stewardship of such land or easements; or an agreement whereby one party (the trustee) agrees to hold ownership of a piece of real property for the benefit of another party (the beneficiary).
As defined by Webster’s Dictionary of Law:
A trust created to effectuate a real estate ownership arrangement in which the trustee holds legal and equitable title to the property subject to the provisions of a trust agreement setting out the rights of the beneficiaries whose interests in the trust are declared to be personal property
How is it that I founded and run a Land Trust yet a Google search does not a yield a definition of Land Trust that I understand? And there begins our first challenge in telling people about our work and mission. In the first sentence “we are a land trust” most every listener probably thinks “I’ve heard of a land trust, but don’t think I know what it is”. I know when I first talked to someone about my desire to be involved in creating more parks he said “you should start a land trust”. As my mouth was saying “O.K. I’ll look into starting a Land Trust as the foundation to create parks” my brain was saying “What the heck is a Land Trust?”!
I have since found out what a land trust is and does.
It teaches the young and old. It calms the busy and inspires the inactive. It feeds bellies and souls. It cleans and absorbs water. It lets waterways flow and riverbanks grow. It tells stories of the past and waits patiently for the future. It lets trees grow and turtles nest. It heals earth and restrains man. It is good and I am not confused about that despite those Google search definitions.
So that was a lovely flowery little paragraph, not any better than the dictionary now is it? But here it is with fewer flowers and more rocks.
Land trust property:
Teaches when people walk with a child and spotting exciting things like pretty wild flowers, furry caterpillars, really tall trees and silly squirrels. Teaches when we label trees and plants along nature trails. Teaches when we partner with schools and colleges to provide field labs and hands on observation.
Calms by providing walking trails and open fields to absorb stress, soften grief, free thinking and share in joy. Inspires to exercise when a nice trail to walk is nearby. No membership to buy. No lessons to take. No special clothes or equipment needed. Bring a friend. Bring a dog. Play. Relax. Daydream.
Considerations before beginning the process of donating land or an easement
Philosophy of early American conservation movement
During the 19th century, some Americans developed a deep and abiding passion for nature. The early evolution of the conservation movement began through both public and private recognition of the relationship between man and nature often reflected in the great literary and artistic works of the 19th century. Artists, such as Albert Bierstadt, painted powerful landscapes of the American West during the mid 19th century, which were incredibly popular ages representative of the unique natural wonders of the American frontier. Likewise, in 1860, Frederic Edwin Church painted “Twilight in the Wilderness”, which was an artistic masterpiece of the era that explored the growing importance of the American wilderness.
Many American writers also romanticized and focused upon nature as a subject matter. However, the most notable literary figure upon the early conservation movement proved to be Henry David Thoreau. Throughout his work, Walden, Thoreau detailed his experiences at the natural setting of Walden Pond and his deep appreciation for nature. In one instance, he described a deep grief for a tree that was cut down. Thoreau went on to bemoan the lack of reverence for the natural world: “I would that our farmers when they cut down a forest felt some of that awe which the old Romans did when they came to thin, or let in the light to, a consecrated grove”. As he states in Walden, Thoreau “was interested in the preservation” of nature. In 1860, Henry David Thoreau delivered a speech to the Middlesex Agricultural Society in Massachusetts; the speech, entitled “The Succession of Forest Trees”, explored forest ecology and encouraged the agricultural community to plant trees. This speech became one of Thoreau’s “most influential ecological contributions to conservationist thought”.
The early conservation movement in the United States was also successful due to the hard work of John Muir. Muir was a former carriage worker who was nearly blinded by an accident at work. After almost losing his sight, Muir decided to see “America’s natural wonders”. Based upon his travels throughout Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Muir wrote a collection of articles for Century magazine, entitled “Studies in the Sierra”. In 1892, John Muir joined forces with the editor of “Century” Magazine, Robert Underwood Johnson, to establish the Sierra Club, an organization designed to protect America’s natural resources and public parks. Early Americans recognized the importance of natural resources and the necessity of wilderness preservation for sustained yield harvesting of natural resources. In essence, the preservation of wilderness and landscapes were recognized as critical for future generations and their continued subsistence in a healthy environment. The foundation of the conservation movement is grounded during this period between 1850 and 1920. Ultimately, historical trends and cultural mind-sets were united, which influenced ideas and policy towards the early history of the conservation movement in the United States.
Early American conservation movement
The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to solve all others.
America had its own conservation movement in the 19th century, most often characterized by George Perkins Marsh, author of Man and Nature. The expedition into northwest Wyoming in 1871 led by F. V. Hayden and accompanied by photographer William Henry Jacksonprovided the imagery needed to substantiate rumors about the grandeur of the Yellowstone region, and resulted in the creation of Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first, in 1872. Travels by later U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt through the region around Yellowstone provided the impetus for the creation of the Yellowstone Timberland Reserve in 1891. The largest section of the reserve was later renamed Shoshone National Forest, and it is the oldest National Forest in the U.S. But it was not until 1898 when German forester Dr. Carl A. Schenck, on theBiltmore Estate, and Cornell University founded the first two forestry schools, both run by Germans. Bernard Fernow, founder of the forestry schools at Cornell and the University of Toronto, was originally from Prussia (Germany), and he honed his knowledge from Germans who pioneered forestry in India. He introduced Gifford Pinchot, the “father of American forestry”, to Brandis and Ribbentrop in Europe. From these men, Pinchot learned the skills and legislative patterns he would later apply to America. Pinchot, in his memoir history Breaking New Ground, credited Brandis especially with helping to form America’s conservation laws.
|“||Conservation means the greatest good to the greatest number for the longest time.—Pinchot||”|
Pinchot wrote that the principles of conservation were:
In 1891, Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act, which allowed the President of the United States to set aside forest lands on public domain. A decade after the Forest Reserve Act, presidents Harrison, Cleveland, and McKinley had transferred approximately 50,000,000 acres (200,000 km2) into the forest reserve system. However, President Theodore Roosevelt is credited with the institutionalization of the conservation movement in the United States.
For President Roosevelt, the conservation movement was not about the preservation of nature simply for nature itself. After his experiences traveling as an enthusiastic, zealous hunter, Roosevelt became convinced of “the need for measures to protect the game species from further destruction and eventual extinction”. President Roosevelt recognized the necessity of carefully managing America’s natural resources. According to Roosevelt, “We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so”. Nonetheless, Roosevelt believed that conservation of America’s natural resources was for the successful management and continued sustain yield harvesting of these resources in the future for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people. Roosevelt took several major steps to further his conservation goals.In 1902, Roosevelt signed the National Reclamation Act, which allowed for the management and settlement of a large tract of barren land. Then, in 1905, President Roosevelt helped to create the United States Forest Service and then appointed respected forester, Gifford Pinchot, as the first head of the agency. By the end of his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt, in partnership with Gifford Pinchot, had successfully increased the number of national parks as well as added area to existing forest reserves.
Despite these advancements, the American conservation movement did have difficulties. In the early 1900s the conservation movement in America was split into two main groups: conservationists, like Pinchot and Roosevelt, who were utilitarian foresters and natural rights advocates who wanted to protect forests “for the greater good for the greatest length”, and preservationists, such as John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club. Important differences separated conservationists like Roosevelt and Pinchot from preservationists like Muir. As a preservationist, Muir envisioned the maintenance of pristine natural environments where any development was banned. Whereas conservationists wanted regulated use of forest lands for both public activities and commercial endeavors, preservationists wanted forest to be preserved for natural beauty, scientific study and recreation. The differences continue to the modern era, with sustainable harvest and multiple-use the major focus of the U.S. Forest Service and recreation emphasized by the National Park Service.
Modern American conservation movement
The High Peaks Wilderness Area in the 6,000,000-acre (24,000 km2) Adirondack Park is a publicly protected area located in northeast New York.
Ultimately, the modern conservation movement in the United States continues to strive for the delicate balance between the successful management of society’s industrial progress while still preserving the integrity of the natural environment that sustains humanity. In a large part, today’s conservation movement in the United States is a joint effort of individuals, grassroots organizations, nongovernmental organizations, learning institutions, and various government agencies, such as the United States Forest Service.
For the modern era, the U.S. Forest Service has noted three important aspects of the conservation movement: the climate change, water issues, and the education of the public on conservation of the natural environment, especially among children. In regards to climate change, the U.S. Forest Service has undertaken a twenty-year research project to develop ways to counteract issues surrounding climate change. However, some small steps have been taken regarding climate change. As rising greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, reforestation projects are seeking to counteract rising carbon emissions. In Oregon, the Department of Forestry has developed such a small reforestation program in which landowners can lease their land for one hundred years to grow trees. In turn, these trees offset carbon emissions from power companies. Moreover, reforestation projects have other benefits: reforested areas serve as a natural filter of agricultural fertilizers even as new wildlife habitats are created. Reforested land can also contribute to the local economy as rural landowners also distribute hunting leases during the years between harvests.
In essence, projects, such as reforestation, create a viable market of eco-friendly services mutually beneficial to landowners, businesses and society, and most importantly, the environment. Nonetheless, such creative plans will be necessary in the near future as the United States struggles to maintain a positive balance between society and the finite natural resources of the nation. Ultimately, through dedicated research, eco-friendly practices of land management, and efforts to educate the public regarding the necessity of conservation, those individuals dedicated to American conservation seek to preserve the nation’s natural resources.
Easements are legal documents stipulating usage restrictions, usage allowances or both. In other words they can prevent you from using your property in a certain way or can allow someone else access or use of your property. Easements usually “travel with the land” in that they stay in force even if a property is transferred to a new owner. Most of the time a copy of an easement is literally attached to the physical title in courthouses. This makes them easy to notice if someone investigates the title during a property sale, tax value consideration, or for a new building permit.
Most people think of an easement as a claim on a property or its use by someone else. For example utility companies may be granted easements to dig up your yard to run their pipes or wires. Or a landlocked landowner may be granted an easement to use another person’s property in order to access their own property. In those cases the land itself is secondary to the usage prescribed by the easement.
But a conservation easement thinks first of the land. It stipulates how the land can be used in order to meet specific conservation- related goals. It can be used to protect water quality, storm water management, plant and animal habitat, recreation, historical site, scenic views, and even agriculture. The easement allows a landowner to permanently protect for one or more of these reasons without giving up ownership of their land. So, why would a landowner need a document like an easement to do what they want with their land? The short and typical answer is money, but there are other reasons too. But starting with money: permanently giving up rights on how a property can be used by placing a restrictive easement on it devalues the land. The difference between the value of the land pre- and post- easement is considered a charitable donation and as such may provide tax benefits depending on an individual’s situation. Some States also offer enhanced tax benefits to encourage more land conservation. The other primary reason to encumber a property with an easement is out of love and respect for the land. A landowner may want to serve future generations by guaranteeing that a property will never change. They can create some certainty that their great grandchildren will play on the property just as they did as a child. Leaving a family property to be perpetually preserved is a powerful legacy. However, just putting an easement on a property is not enough so the IRS and States generally require that a neutral second party “hold” the easement. This party is responsible for making sure the easement stays in force and making sure that its provisions are not violated. The landowner still retains ownership of the land and can control usage and access to the land as long as they are in compliance with the terms of the easement. Landowners typically cover the land trust’s costs associated with accepting the property and usually make a voluntary significant donation to the land trust. These donations are important as the land trust has a perpetual duty to monitor the property, so it needs endowment funds to remain financially viable forever. A land trust also has to be prepared when a second or third generation decides that the easement is not a good idea anymore. The land trust may have to fund court cases in order to honor the commitment the land trust made to the original landowner to protect their intentions, even against their very family. That sounds strange but usually the easement is created specifically for the dual purpose of saving it both for and from future generations.
A fee simple transfer land ownership is the clearest and most typical form of land ownership. Most all real estate transactions involving transfer of ownership are fee simple transactions. Land is exchanged for mutually acceptable payment and all rights to the land are transferred to the new owner.
So why would someone give away the property when an easement might still satisfy their intentions. As expected, money is a consideration! With an easement the donation value for tax purposes is the difference between the value of the land pre and post easement. With a fee simple donation a typical appraisal of the land value determines the donation value. You eliminate the somewhat subjective value calculation associated with an easement donation. The donor also has a higher level of certainty that their objectives for protecting the land are met by allowing the land trust to own the land. A land trust is not going to attempt to dissolve the easement. By donating the land you also have much greater opportunity to allow public access and benefit.
We have land. It is conservation land. So what do we do with the land? Pretend like it is a precious jewel to be locked away from people? Hide it so no one knows it is there? Don’t touch it!
At first, I thought that our greatest value as an organization was to hold conservation and make sure that is stayed just the way it was. And then we got some land. Then came the realization that we have this land. What would you do if you had some land? I had no plans, but I had ears and eyes.
We heard about a group that is helping resettle refugees through a United Nations programs. They would bring these refugees into communities that were mostly home to other refugees. They would get them apartments, jobs, and support. But surveys of refugees that had been here for a few years kept exposing a flaw in the program. Many of these refugees came from many generations of living as subsistence farmers in small family based communities. Now they were living in crowded apartment complexes doing low wage service jobs. They were separated from their families when they worked. They missed farming. They missed having their families with them when they are farmed and they missed the very foods that they used to grow. So this group said let’s get these folks small pieces of land of around 1/8 acre so they can grow some food for themselves and their neighbors. And then they realized they were in the edge of a dream. They saw these farmers bringing fresh produce native to their homelands back to these food desert apartment complexes. They realized that the refugees could make a better and more fulfilling living by farming just a 3-5 acre plot. Yes 3-5 acres could yield enough income to get these families out of the working poor demographic and into the lower middle class. They saw the American dream. But they needed more land. They needed enough land for many families to have 3-5 acres plots. They needed room on this land to keep communal equipment such as a tractor. And they needed land for free. We have 150 acres of farm ready land. Farm land is a fine use for conservation land provided the farming is gentle on the land. And we are on the way to partnering with this group to grow food, improve families, and let them really grab hold of the American dream. How’s that for using conservation land?
We also heard about a group of university students engaged in developing and promoting permaculture agriculture. This is a technique in which a wide variety of produce can be grown in a very small area with very little pest and weed control. It is a type of system that was used for countless years when many families and small community groups had small gardens. This group needed some land to provide demonstration gardens. We are providing that land.
We saw that much of our land had been planted with pine trees for pulp wood production. The trees were too dense to grow properly and to provide habitat for a diverse forest. We are carefully thinning these areas with the goal of producing a more natural and diverse forest. We will receive income from that process which will fund other projects to improve the conservation value of our properties.
We saw community groups selling pumpkins for fundraising. We are offering some of our pasture land for that purpose.
We heard that public school and university students needed natural areas for scientific study and observation. We are in the process of formalizing an agreement with one major university and beginning the same process with two other universities.
We see the benefits of having walking trails available for the public and we have provided them.
Our land is saved for the people of tomorrow, but serving people every day.