Glenn Marx

Why do some landowners seek to place conservation easements on their property?

What is a conservation easement designed to accomplish?

Heck, what is a conservation easement?

These questions - and their answers - will be discussed at a workshop in Dillon on Oct. 11. The workshop is titled "A Landowner's Introduction to Conservation Easements" and will start at 2:00 PM in the 4-H Building at the Beaverhead County Fairgrounds. The workshop is open to all and there is no cost to attend.

All 50 states have some kind of conservation easement program in place. Montana's first conservation easement was created in 1976 - 35 years ago - and since then more than 1,500 conservation easements have been created to conserve private lands. At its most elemental level, a conservation easement keeps open land as open land, helping to maintain farm and ranch operations. Conservation easements also help keep forests intact and producing the abundance of goods and benefits large forests generate. 

In many cases, conservation easements can also offer federal income and estate tax benefits to landowners.

A conservation easement is a permanent agreement between a landowner and a land trust or a government agency that limits residential development on the property within the easement. Montana needs economic development and jobs growth, and conservation easements seek to protect the essence of what makes our state such a special place to live, work and recreate as that economic and population growth occurs. 

That is not to say conservation easements are simple, quick or easy. The process to create one can be complex and lengthy, in part because no two landowners and no two land parcels are the same. A conservation easement is typically permanent, and the easement agreement is unique to that property. A conservation easement is one of a landowner's property rights, and creating a conservation easement is use of a landowner's property right.

Landowners and others interested in learning more about conservation easements will have an excellent opportunity on Oct. 11 in Dillon. The Montana Association of Land Trusts and the Montana Forest Stewardship Foundation, in conjunction with the Beaverhead County Extension Service, are teaming up to present the workshop. Similar workshops have been held in Libby, Kalispell and Lewistown in the past two years.

Speakers for the workshop include Ed Levert of the Montana Forest Stewardship Foundation; Rock Ringling of the Montana Land Reliance; Gary Ellingson for Northwest Management, a forestry consultant business; Jim Berkey of The Nature Conservancy (and new Beaverhead County resident), and Paul Sihler of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. JB Tanner of the Beaverhead County Extension Office is helping coordinate the workshop and will serve as workshop moderator. The speakers will provide abundant information about conservation easements and there will be ample time for questions from the audience. 

Conservation easements aren't for every landowner and they certainly aren't for every parcel of land. But they have made sense for many Montana landowners during the past 35 years. The Oct. 11 workshop in Dillon is a good opportunity to learn more about what conservation easements are and aren't, what they do and don't do, and to make up your own mind about their value to landowners.


— Glenn Marx is the executive director of the Montana Association of Land Trusts. He lives in Whitehall.


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