Vail Daily column: Legislature increases incentives for conservation | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Legislature increases incentives for conservation

The Gates family granted a conservation easement to Eagle Valley Land Trust over their 740 acre ranch in Eagle County in 2006.
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Eagle Valley Land Trust anticipates an increase in private land conservation in Eagle County due to increased incentives signed into law last week by the state Legislature. For the last 13 years, since the initial state incentives were put into law, Eagle Valley Land Trust could offer private landowners only up to $375,000 (in the form of marketable tax credits) to permanently remove development rights from their land. The new law increases this funding to up to $1.5 million. Land conservation has proved to be so popular with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that they overwhelmingly (59 to four) agreed to increase the state incentive for conservation because it is good business for our tourism and agriculture-based economy.

Do you know of a parcel that could be conserved? While the land trust can’t conserve every parcel proposed for conservation, the new legislation creates great opportunities. There is no formula for which parcels are preserved. Parcels that make excellent candidates for conservation exhibit any of the following attributes or a mix thereof: They are greater than 70 acres, adjacent to public lands, resolve a significant recreational access issue, contain ecologically sensitive attributes, contribute significantly to landscape-scale conservation, protect a valuable scenic area, contain significant water rights and/or conserve significant agricultural land.

Great examples include lands north of Interstate 70 near Eagle, significant agricultural properties along the Colorado and Eagle rivers and the land in and around Gore, Brush, Lake and Gypsum creeks. Other areas that command attention include private land along the incredibly scenic Highway 131 corridor between Wolcott and Steamboat.

Landowners should consider conservation of their land if they would like to prevent the future subdivision and development of the land and to leave a legacy for future generations to enjoy. Now, making such a commitment is more affordable than ever. Specifically, a landowner would remove all, or a portion, of their future development rights by entering into a conservation easement with the land trust. An appraiser determines the resulting loss in property value. The state law provides that the owner would then be eligible for state tax credits that can be used or turned into cash.

If a landowner has no plans to sell the land but has tied up a significant amount of their assets in the land, placing a conservation easement on the property can provide cash while not requiring any change to the land, its use or its ownership. The additional funds can be used to purchase additional real estate, invest in the stock market or perform needed improvements, such as remodeling a home, installing a new septic system, replacing irrigation infrastructure or building a new house.

If a landowner is considering leaving the land to his or her heirs but worries it could create friction, or worse, the ultimate splitting up of the land, a conservation easement can put a plan in place to resolve such issues. For example, a conservation easement reduces the value of the land while providing a pool of new funds for the family. This makes it much more feasible to leave one heir the land and the others cash. The land will be managed and conserved by one member of the family while all the heirs are treated fairly. Without a conservation easement, there may be nothing to prevent the heirs from splitting up and selling portions of the land should one of them unexpectedly need cash.

It should be noted that the state will only issue credits equal to 50 percent of the property’s appraised reduction in value. The landowner needs to be a Colorado resident or the property has to be owned by an entity that is eligible. The land trust recommends any landowner considering entering into a conservation easement to seek independent legal and financial advice.

Some common misconceptions also should be noted. By working with the land trust to conserve property, a private landowner will not be required to allow public access. Conservation easements allow landowners to continue and even expand their use of the property. The land trust will not meddle in the management of the property unless the landowner does not abide by the conservation easement. Eagle Valley Land Trust is a nonprofit organization and is not related in any way to the federal or state government, or Eagle County or Eagle County’s open space tax. Eagle Valley Land Trust can request additional funds for conservation from these agencies in appropriate circumstances.

Jim Daus is the executive director of Eagle Valley Land Trust. For more information, go to http://www.evlt.org or call 970-748-7654.