Conservation Easements and the Urge to Rule

By:  Tom DeWeese
Conservation Easements and the Urge to Rule

Conservation and environmental groups openly advocate conservation easements as the answer to saving farmland, but in fact, farmers lose their property rights.

Conservation easements: The Green Mafia tells us this is the only way to save the family farm. Without their tax credits and restrictions on development rights, America will be paved over and Astroturf will replace sod. We’re in crisis, they tell us. However, as H.L Mencken once warned, “A plan to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.”

Conservation and environmental groups openly advocate conservation easements as the answer to saving farmland, as do state departments of agriculture, farm bureaus, and the federal government. A full court press is on to lock in millions of acres of private property under the blazing headline, “Save the Family Farm.”

There’s no question that the family farm is under assault. Taxes, international trade agreements, inflation, and government regulations are eating away at the ability to keep the farm operating. I’ve never met a farmer who wanted to give up and stop working the land that perhaps his ancestors first acquired. In most cases it’s agony for a farmer to decide to sell his property. On the other hand, the land is his main asset. To provide a good life for the family, selling the land, many times to developers, is necessary for survival.

However, there is now a much more lethal threat facing small farmers, and the outrageous fact is, this threat is being disguised as a way to help them. The real threat is the green solution — “conservation easements.” And farmers are falling into this trap across the country.

Conservation easements are promoted by land trusts and environmental groups. Tax breaks are promoted. Even cash is offered those farmers willing to sell their development rights under the argument that this will drive away the temptation to sell the land to nasty developers, thus keeping it farmland. The clever slogan, “Farm land lost is farm land lost forever,” helps sell the case for easements.

The promoters of such ideas are very good with the sales pitch. If it were politically correct to do so, one could actually hear “God Bless America” playing in the background as the promises to save the family farm roll off the pitchman’s tongue.

Say proponents, “A conservation easement is a voluntary perpetual agreement that restricts non-agricultural uses such as mining and large scale residential and commercial development.” They boldly promote the easements by promising that “the landowner continues to own, live on, and use the land.” They even promise that the land can be passed down to heirs, along with generous tax credits. What’s not to like? Desperate farmers are flocking to the pitchman’s wagon to buy his life-saving potion.

Of course, as another famous pitchman, P.T Barnum, once said, “there’s a sucker born every minute.” Farmers beware the slick talker who has the answers to your woes. His answers may well be your demise — and your farm’s. It’s wise to read the fine print of a conservation easement agreement. Here are some facts.

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