A Place of Your Own Part Four: With Ownership Comes Responsibility

The term “Conservation Land Buyer” is routinely used to describe people who use their financial resources to acquire lands for the specific purpose of conservation.  These folks, whatever their circumstances, are using their financial means (which are quite often large) to “give back” or protect the earth in a way that most of us see as unattainable.

It is a noble gesture.

It is not, however a gesture limited to “nobility” or the affluent.  In fact, anyone who purchases, inherits, or already owns land, regardless of their financial means or the size of their acreage has a RESPONSIBILITY to care for it in a way that conserves it for future generations.

But here’s some good news.  Stewardship of our natural resources…..and by that I mean conservation oriented land management….not only enhances the natural resources, but the land value and the ownership experience, as well. The better you treat the land; the better the land treats you!

And here’s more good news…….You don’t have to be obscenely wealthy to play the game.  In fact, the large majority of privately held land in this country is not the playground of the wealthy, but rather the backyards, hunting lands, gentleman’s farms, fishing camps, and retirement getaways of the ordinary.

People just like you.

Ordinary people……..doing ordinary things…..can achieve extraordinary results with a little land and a little know-how.  Whether you want to reduce your carbon footprint, enhance wildlife habitat, maximize the forest resources, restore native grasslands, or simply to have a nice place to retire…..you can make a difference!

But here’s the best news.

Conservation programs can actually offset the costs of ownership. I recently interviewed a landowner in Illinois who used the Conservation Reserve Enhanced Program (CREP) to COMPLETELY pay for his 400 plus acre farm. All he did was enroll his farm in the program. In return, the state paid him an amount equivalent to his down payment for a conservation easement, AND the Federal CREP Program pays him annually an amount exceeding his annual loan payment for converting his agricultural land back into forested land……..and they provided (for free) the 100,000 trees he planted. Not bad.

So…..Is every land owner or aspiring landowner going to get a free farm? No. These opportunities are part luck and part timing, but they do underscore the untapped potential in conservation programs. Through tax breaks, cost sharing, and direct payments, people just like you have reduced their cost of ownership with streamside and wetland mitigation, CRP, Conservation Easements, and many other conservation programs. With the current trend toward green initiatives, including cap and trade, carbon credits, and incentives in the new farm bill, who knows what could be coming down the pike. One thing is certain, people who understand and leverage these programs will be glad they did.

I’ll admit that I have been skeptical of these programs and their impact on land value. For many years, I thought that conservation programs meant a total loss of control of the property, that utility was limited, and that land value was diminished. Not true. In fact, most conservation programs and easements allow for a residence (or two), farming, timber management and harvesting, hunting, and unlimited personal use and enjoyment. Most of these programs develop a management plan for you – one that it specifically designed to create or maintain “native” habitat with an emphasis on wildlife. In most cases, the value and utility of the property is unaffected, unless you have future plans for a subdivision or office complex…..and who would?

If you’re like me, you wear your conservation and land management principles as a badge of honor. It’s my core belief that we should leave this planet better than we found it. But, if we can all benefit financially by doing the earth right……who’s got a problem with that?

So, get involved.  Get educated.  Get connected to the resources available to you.  Find out about wetlands management, wildlife habitat improvement, conservation easements, stream side management, Conservation Reserve Programs, The US Forest Service, NRCS, The Farm Bill, USDA, and State and Local conservation programs.  Find out how these programs can benefit not only the land, but the landowner, as well.

Become a Conservation Land Buyer/Owner. You’ll be glad you did.

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