The Transfer Of Land Ownership In The United States
A Conservation Easement contract has some concerns you should be aware of prior to signing an agreement. With the federal government, your signature will, in essence, split the estate on your property. You are releasing to a land trust, the controlled “use” of the land and development rights, while you retain title to the “land” and remain responsible for all costs of ownership … FOREVER. It will be virtually impossible for you, your heirs or a purchaser, regardless of circumstance, to over-ride this contract agreement.
Our country is now experiencing a third major historical shift of land ownership, its uses, resources, and wealth. Only two other events in history were of equal significance: the railroad land acquisition of the nation’s early days and the Homestead Act. The current episode could constitute a complete change in our form of government which, through the Constitution, is founded upon private property rights of citizens and is designed to protect our freedoms and way of life. The current appeal is innocuous, the tactics subtle verging on fraudulent, and the results inevitable, unless property owners awaken and resist the poison bait. Hopefully our government and legal system, in the interests of our citizens can, in sufficient time, develop protective measures to control and overcome this threatening land grab scheme. Meanwhile, we must depend upon caution, restraint and common sense of informed property owners.
The Conservation Easement provides the tools, techniques, and motivations to legally wrestle the land from its owners and transfer it to the federal government supposedly preserving it for future generations. Psychological and economic tactics being used are subtle with long-term objectives seldom identified by property owners. They are led to believe they are helping popular environmental efforts, while at the same time being provided personal financial benefits and security. Some are even awarded public recognition through the media for their noble, unselfish “contribution.” Unknowingly they have essentially become victims of legalized fraud. They have enabled NGOs such as The Nature Conservancy to become wealthy in the billions while the land they have committed in perpetuity is doomed to Federal ownership.
Differences of opinion with the land trust concerning interpretation of contract terms may eventually lead you to seek court settlement ~around region~. Unfortunately, you, the owner of the land, are committed to bearing all court costs if you lose, which in all likelihood you will. Furthermore, they can take you to court if they decide you are not adequately meeting contract obligations. You will bear all legal costs including their high priced attorneys. And if your current friendly land trust shows too much leniency, another more demanding third party agency can step in, take over and rule with a firmer hand possibly in the interests of “the environment.”
For various reasons including financial difficulty or family disagreements, you or your heirs may attempt to sell all or part of the property. The contract prevents dividing or selling off portions. Prospective buyers are limited for easement-encumbered land; the larger the acreage the more limited. Basically, it is hard to get rid of.
Conservation Groups Enter Through The Back Door To Get Your Land
By law, the conservation easement can only be extinguished when the entity holding the easement (the land trust) becomes the full owner of the property, both the land and its controlled use. The friendly land trust will probably be happy to purchase your land at the greatly reduced value. However, once purchased and with the easement restriction removed this non-profit, non-taxpaying land trust it is legally free to resell at high market value of adjoining property. Or they can develop subdivisions; perform timber harvest, lumber mills, mining, oil drilling, and whatever … at a profit.
All of this, of course, is in direct conflict with your original noble intent when you donated the conservation easement. Sadly the idealistic, worthy causes you had envisioned through the land trust, such as environmental protection, habitat for wildlife, open space, rural living, protection against urban sprawl, will no longer exist except as they may be initiated and enforced by environmental agencies at your expense.
Large property owners such as ranchers and timber land owners are being enticed to place property under conservation easement often receiving in return thousands of dollars in tax benefits in return for the reduced land value. Then the property under easement is purchased by the (non-profit, non-taxpaying) land trust at the reduced value; and can immediately resell to the federal government at considerable profit. The land trust acting as the real estate agent puts together the financial package. The American taxpayer unknowingly picks up the tab for the entire operation at both ends by financing both the tax write-off and the governmental land purchase. Meanwhile, the tax base of the county is reduced. In essence, our citizens are financing the buy-out of what is left of our nation’s private property all in the name of “sustainability” and proclaimed protection of our “open space” and “wilderness” dedicated to wildlife. If this practice continues with ongoing loss of our country’s private property throughout the West and Middle-west we are destined to evolve into a totalitarian form of government.