Vail Daily column: What does the land trust do? | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: What does the land trust do?

What does the land trust do? Eagle Valley Land Trust conserves sensitive land from being developed. Since our inception in 1981, Eagle Valley Land Trust has permanently conserved over 7,000 acres of land.

Why? To prevent uncontrolled and unplanned development in and around our river valleys and to preserve the rural character of our distinct towns.

How? Property owners promise, via a contract with the land trust, to forfeit the bulk of their development rights and manage the property well. Future owners are bound by this contract so the promise is forever. The contract with the land trust is called a conservation easement.

Benefits of Conservation Easement

Why would a landowner do this? In return for signing the contract with the land trust, the landowner gains access to significant funds and tax incentives only available through the land trust. Landowners who want to see their land preserved forever rather than someday developed also gain peace of mind that they’ve left a legacy of conservation for all time.

What’s the downside for the landowner? The above benefits need to be weighed against the fact that the land is not worth as much after the landowner forfeits the development rights to the land trust. Developers will no longer be interested in the property because they can’t turn the land into a big development.

Control of Land

Does the landowner lose control of their land? No. The landowner continues to own the land and the management is under their control. The landowner can keep doing what they’ve always done on their property. They can even sell the property, but all future owners are bound by the original owner’s contract with the land trust to conserve the land.

Is this important to me? If you and your children want to enjoy clean water, quiet places, night sky, locally produced food, scenic valleys, and diverse wildlife right out your back door without having to move somewhere less populated, then yes. It is also important to you if you want our local economy to thrive — because the scenic beauty of our area is the backbone of our tourism-based economy. Over time, without the land trust, we’ll lose all the river valleys and rolling meadows to business parks, residential subdivisions and additional golf course communities.

But isn’t the federal land all around us good enough? Look on a map that shows the location of federal lands in Eagle County and surrounding areas. The U.S. government does not own the valleys. The valleys hold our majestic rivers, vital wildlife habitat and travel routes, picturesque meadows and pastoral ranches. We choose to live in the valleys because they offer fertile soils, good shelter, ample clean water and are generally more accessible. These areas are worthy of conservation as well and there is far less of this kind of land.

Is the land trust anti-development? No. The land trust promotes intelligent, well-planned, development within areas already impacted by development and is striving to conserve what is remaining of our undeveloped valleys.

Is the land trust the government? No. We are a totally independent nonprofit organization run by talented staff and a dedicated, all-volunteer board. We are funded by individual contributions and grants.

Do you invade the privacy of landowners? No. On the contrary. We generally advocate for private property rights. If a landowner wants to make the very important decision to preserve their private property for generations to come, then they have every right to do so and do so voluntarily. The decision is private, the property is private, and we honor that privacy.

Is this a proven way to conserve land? Yes! There are nearly 1,700 land trusts nationwide doing exactly what we are doing. Over the decades, these land trusts have preserved over 50 million acres nationwide, an area the size of Nebraska.

Access to Land

Does the land trust restrict access to land? No. It is the private property owner’s choice whether or not to allow public access, such as a trail, across a portion of their private property. The land trust will support the private property owner’s decision about public access.

What is your relationship with the county? While the county’s current leaders also care about permanently conserving important land to benefit the public, the land trust has no formal relationship with the county. The county and the land trust occasionally come together to collaborate on conservation projects in a couple of ways. When the county uses its dedicated open space funds to purchase land for conservation, the county will often seek out a contract with the land trust in the same way the land trust contracts with private property owners, because that contract ensures future commissioners can’t reverse the decision to conserve the land. Occasionally, the County will authorize the use of open space funds to induce property owners to preserve land with the land trust as described in the paragraphs above.

To Give Your Support

How can I support the land trust’s work? Eagle Valley Land Trust could not exist without generous donations from people like you. The best time to give is now because of the upcoming Colorado Gives/Eagle County Gives Day which automatically adds a percentage to your donation. Go to http://www.evlt.org/give/ to schedule your tax-deductible donation now.

Jim Daus is the executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust. He can be reached at jdaus@evlt.org. For more information about the work of your local land trust, visit http://www.evlt.org.