|THE PROPERTY RIGHTS FOUNDATION OF AMERICA, INC.
P.O. Box 75, Stony Creek, New York 12878 - 518/696-5748
The right to own private property is a fundamental American freedom that
guarantees personal liberty and promotes economic prosperity.
A Critical Commentary
Carol W. LaGrasse
President, Property Rights Foundation of America
March 14, 2000
Where used to acquire large tracts of rural land, conservation easements are a wolf in sheep's clothing. Although environmental groups, government, and even sectors of resource-based industry laud conservation easements as a permanent means by which to maintain "working" forests, ranches and farms while protecting the environment. In reality the easements place the
productive future of the land in grave doubt. At the same time. The easements are eroding that bastion of the American tradition of freedom, private property ownership.
The reasons cited to promote conservation easements are in error and better means to preserve productive rural lands are available. It is important to avert any major federal funding source (like CARA) for conservation easements.
What are conservation easements? Under these transactions, the State or a land trust acquires a (usually perpetual) deeded conservation easement which prohibits all but strictly limited forestry, agricultural, and possibly recreational uses of the property by the owner and gives the grantee, and sometimes citizen activists, certain powers to enforce the easement and manage the land. The forest, ranch, or farm "owner" actually becomes a residual owner under the terms of the easement, with his rights to use the land subsidiary to the rights conveyed, which can be very broad.
Benefits attributed to conservation easements-Inaccurate, exaggerated, and inequitable
The positive buzz about conservation easements and their one-sided advocacy by groups which stand to advance their agendas and increase their influence from implementing the easements have been obscuring rational evaluation of the ascribed benefits and negative effects of these transactions. The values attributed to conservation easements are scrutinized briefly as follows:
1. The claim of "private" conservation through conservation easements by land trusts
It is untrue that conservation easements arranged by land trusts constitute "private" conservation.
a. Land trusts as government agencies: The claim that conservation easements through land trusts are "private" conservation is false because the land trusts are not private entities. Their funding and operations are so thoroughly woven together in complex monopolistic, often secret
relationships with government that they are essentially government agencies, or, if not government agencies in the formal legal sense, at least quasi-government agencies. (1)
b. Land trusts as government land agents: The land trusts are not mainly involved in private conservation. Instead, the land trusts are largely acquiring land on a prearranged flip to government.
c. Loss of equity and rights to use the land: After the land trusts, often acting as intermediaries, split the title, the remainder title owned by the farmer, rancher or forester ordinarily comprises only about ten to fifty percent of the equity of the property, depending on the practical
feasibility of development of land in its unencumbered state and the range of the rights acquired in the easement. The bundle of private rights to the land has been so severely diminished that the farmer, rancher or forester is essentially a tenant on his own land.
When the land is depleted, as it will often deliberately be by such owners because they are unwilling to maintain their former stewardship; or when financial crises or opportunities arise necessitating the use of land for equity, where equity essentially no longer exists; or where times change and uses prohibited by the easement are feasible while permitted uses are undesired or uneconomical, the only buyer for the land may be government. (2) Thus, the conservation easement is in essence a step along the way from 100 percent private to 100 percent government ownership.
d. An alternative of genuine private sector conservation through land agreements: The real estate division of Sotheby's in New York has a program to preserve ranches in conjunction with the Sand Creek Co. in Buffalo, Wyoming, by offering cooperative ranch ownership to multiple wealthy buyers without the involvement of the government or land trusts. This commercial
undertaking sells "ranch-steads" of 40 acre building lots for approximately $1 million each, along with membership in a ranch preservation association limited to the ranch-stead buyers. The ranch-steads are located to leave the large expanse of the ranch intact. (3)
2. Use of voluntary actions instead of government controls
The claim that conservation easements use voluntary actions instead of government controls is extremely deceptive. Statements to the effect that conservation easements, as private conservation efforts, display the "moral and material superiority of a system based on private voluntary actions over a system based on politics and government controls" (4) are simply false.
a. Enforcement of more stringent conditions: Although the government becomes an enforcement agency through contract rather than through passage of regulation, the end result is the same. In fact, in the case of forestry in the Northeast, the terms of conservation easements enforce far more restrictions on the use of resources than are politically feasible through
b. Pressure to sell: The claim fails to take into account the enormous wealth and concentration of power of the land trusts and the pressure of taxes and regulation that argue against a voluntary nature to the landowner's selling conservation easements.
c. Overbidding the market: The claim fails to take into account the fact that government and land trusts commonly overbid private purchasers for the land; thus, although creating a windfall at times for the landowner, the transaction undercuts the operation of the truly voluntary free market.
In New York's Adirondacks, because well heeled land trusts, forest investment groups tied to the land trusts, and government overbid locally based industry, they are thereby gradually superseding the productive local forest industry as purchaser of large tracts of forest land.
d. Litigation: The claim fails to recognize the use of litigation by land trusts to obstruct the use of land they wish to acquire for government preserves. In addition, conservation easements may stipulate that citizens can later sue to enforce the agreement against the will of the residual
property owner and even the government.
3. Preserving the land in perpetuity for productive use
The claim that modern conservation easements can be relied on to preserve the productive use of land in perpetuity is false.
a. Agricultural and ranch land: Productive use of land for agriculture requires that the land ownership be maintained for equity in order to obtain financing for yearly planting, major equipment purchases, and for capital improvements to remain competitive and maintain functioning facilities. Terms of agricultural conservation easements have evolved over the past
thirty years toward tighter restrictions of the original owner and a balance of power weighted to the easement buyer. Conservation easements can reduce the equity to a level that mortgages, and seasonal and long-term loans are not always possible.
Bart Dye, a farmer in Shoals, Indiana, attempting to buy back his 150-year old family farm from the USDA Farm Services Agency, found that government's nebulous conservation easements leave the power of decision making with the government to such an extent that the land is of such questionable value for farming that he cannot secure a mortgage. (5)
Owners of ranch land in the West have had difficult problems with conservation easements, such as being blocked from construction of services across easement land. The experience with perpetual easements bankrolled by Ducks Unlimited and managed by the USFWS was discussed by Dennis Miller, the president of the Landowners Association of North Dakota, in March 2000. "We have dealt with perpetual USFWS easements since the early 60's, I cannot see
why anyone in their right mind would consider, for any amount of compensation, signing over the sovereignty of their property to the Federal government...Perpetual easements have been perpetual headaches for most private landowners involved." (6)
b. Forestland: Conservation easements on forestland are becoming extremely restrictive. Terms of such easements used in the Northeast are extremely lengthy and complex, while at the same time being written so that natural resource protection is most broadly construed and can override forestry considerations. William Sayre of Associated Industries of Vermont found that, in the case of new conservation easements in Vermont, the continued practice of forestry depends entirely on the good faith understanding of the parties, placing the future practice of forestry on
private land in the same precarious position as the current situation of forestry practice in National Forests.(7)
4. Preventing subdivision and development.
The claim that conservation easements are needed to prevent subdivision is untrue for forestland and greatly oversimplified and only partly true for agricultural land.
a. Forestland acreage: Because agricultural land is growing up as forest, the nation is gaining forestland at such a rate that forest acreage exceeds that of the mid-century and dwarfs that of the turn of the century in states like New York. According to a joint study by the Empire State
Forest Products Association and State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, 62 percent of the land area of the state is currently forested, whereas at the turn of the century less than 20 percent was forested. (8)
b. "Threats" of development to forestland: The vast acreages of forestland being acquired by conservation easements and fee simple purchase are not threatened by development. A prime example was the 1999 New York State purchase of 110,000 acres of conservation easements and 29,000 acres of fee simple of the Champion International land in a backwater area of the state characterized by population decline and economic depression. The State and environmentalists pronounced that this land was "saved" from development.
A major federally funded study of land conversion of northeastern forests concluded in 1993 that the only significant transfers of large parcels of land out of the forest industry was the transfer of 6 percent of the total acreage of the tracts (as either easements or fee simple) under study to
government for conservation purposes during the eleven years under consideration. (9)
c. Agricultural land: Most of loss of agricultural land in the United States has been in unused land overgrown by forests. This is still happening. In areas of urban expansion where loss of prime farmland is occurring, farmers should determine the policies which protect their interests, on a voluntary basis, carefully weighing their options.
d. Real estate taxes: Some of the pressure to sell forestland and agricultural land for development is caused by real estate taxes based on the development value and cost of government services which are not proportionally used by farms and forest tracts. Changing all real estate taxes to pure current use taxation would be very beneficial to alleviate much "development" pressure. Yet, many anti-"sprawl " environmentalists aggressively advocate precisely the opposite, the Henry George "rental" system of taxation to eliminate low-value uses of land, which would make it impossible to retain agricultural and forest land near urban areas. (Real estate taxes are discussed in more detail in Section 9 below.)
5. Over-exploitation of the land
The claim that conservation easements are needed to insure the sustainability of the land resources for forestry, farming and ranching is false.
a. The claim that easements will eradicate "unsustainable" forestry and other uses: In the Northeast, the attacks on the degree of sustainability of industrial forest practices refer to antiquated silvicultural practices. Sometimes emotionalistic attacks on cutting any trees, even in forests which are undergoing a third harvest, are translated to campaigns to acquire land, which are then translated to acquiring conservation easements within a confused debate about the issues.
Farming, likewise, has advanced to conservation practices making the agricultural use of the land sustainable indefinitely. Ranch land in the West, likewise, not only is sustainable for ranching, but supports a wealth and variety of wildlife and game.
b. Government acquisition encourages poor stewardship: With New York State government as the next purchaser, rural private property owners during the past 30 years have commonly liquidated their timber resources prior to selling. It is questionable whether some lands with conservation easements retain profitable harvests.
The purchase of large timberland tracts by investment groups as fee simple or as residual land subject to conservation easements appears to indicate a lack of long-term commitment to the land, which may have been so stripped that a wait of 50 to 70 years (touted as being environmentally motivated) is essential in order to have a merchantable harvest. What investment company will hold on to inactive land this long? The land must be destined for 100 percent government ownership.
By contrast, the sellers would have had to continue managing their land for sustainable timber harvest up to the time of sale if the buyers were from the timber industry.
c. Government's lack of stewardship of resources: After the government owns the forest, current federal and state government policies encourage wildfire. In New York in 1995, Governor George Pataki reversed his position under pressure from environmentalists to forego salvage logging after a blowdown which severely damaged or leveled about 400,000 acres of State-owned land, in spite of the computer analysis commissioned by the state stating that the fire hazard conditions caused by the fuel buildup were such that normal weather and commonplace conditions could produce a fire of the worst severity possible. (10) The federal government's policies in the West leading to a wildfire which severely burned Yellowstone National Park are documented in Alston Chase's Playing God in Yellowstone. (11) Federal pretense to "protect" trees and species in the name of the environment is resulting in increased occurrences of disastrous wildfires causing destruction of forests, loss of wildlife and, most outrageous, deaths of firefighters.
6. Preserving rural communities
The claim that conservation easements are necessary and will be effective to preserve resource-based rural communities is built on deception. The degree to which this false claim succeeds will be another factor in the further decline of rural communities and the deliberate depopulation of vast areas of rural America coveted by environmentalists.
a. Encouraging non-sustainable harvesting: Both conservation easements and fee simple acquisition encourage non-sustainable harvesting, and therefore undercut the resource base on which the rural economy is sustained.
b. Fire hazard: By encouraging poor management of the land, government acquisition of conservation easements increases the potential for wild fires, which are a threat to local communities.
c. Elevating non-forestry values: By imposing management conditions that supersede forestry with wildlife management, scenic considerations, and recreation, conservation easements will reduce the rural timber-based economy to one dependant upon the whims of the environmental community.
d. Raising the cost of housing: By withdrawing land from the housing market, the remaining land becomes more expensive for building lots, a critical factor for rural communities, where cash is relatively limited.
e. Reducing long-term commitment to the land: By transferring equity in the land to the easement holder, the easement may discourage the landowner's long-term commitment to the land; the likelihood that the title to the land ultimately transfers 100 percent to government and that the land is retired from production is great.
f. Economic impact on the local economy as a result of unpredicted results of conservation easements: Since conservation easements may very well result in the end of the use of forest land for production, the impact on the local economy in isolated rural communities dependant on forest production will be great. The conservation easements may therefore be an important factor in the depopulation of the region, a goal in harmony with many environmental programs being imposed on rural America.
g. Critical mass: The forest economy requires a certain critical mass in any given region to be economically viable. There must be enough land in production to supply local paper and saw mills and to support services such as equipment suppliers and maintenance experts. As mills close, as is gradually taking place in New York's Adirondack Mountains as a result of State land acquisition for preservation of "wilderness," the services available to remaining mills are placed in jeopardy. Some producers express concern is that a point may be near at hand where a critical mass will be reached where the industry based on remaining private land will be unsustainable.
h. Cultural and economic impact on local communities caused by elimination of land use by traditional sportsmen: The reduction of access and elimination of hunting clubs and popular related uses such as snowmobiling by club members on lands where the government or land trusts hold conservation easements hurts local communities by cutting ties to this important facet of local culture and by economic impact on local businesses patronized by members of hunting clubs, including feed suppliers for deer feeding, automotive and heating fuel suppliers, grocery and general supply stores, restaurants, taverns, carpenters and other businesses. Potential replacement of patronage by hikers and canoers is negligible.
i. Impact on tax base resulting from government or land trust acquisitions of land: Under Section 11, the profound negative implications for the tax base are discussed.
7. "Opening up" access to rural holdings
The claim that conservation easements will open up access to private rural holdings is deceptive and in most important cases deliberately false. If the goal were to obtain access easements, the government would have acquired these, rather than broad forms of title.
a. Cultivating the class resentment factor: Environmentalists falsely claim that only "wealthy" hunters have access to posted land owned by timber companies. This cultivation of the resentment factor has helped to steer the press and the general public away from an accurate examination of the issues.
In reality, by far most of the leases on timber company land are held by middle class, local hunting clubs with a number of camps on each club lease owned by couple of hunters and their families. The neat, modest hunting camps are often a source of generations of pride passed from father to son. The larger, bunk-style camps vary from extremely modest clubs to some with
less rudimentary, pleasant, lodge-style dining halls and even caretaker cottages, but all with a overwhelmingly middle-class, rather than wealthy, membership.
Contrary to environmentalist claims, the clubs respect nature and act as stewards of the land, and they have stricter hunting standards than the State. They take pride in building up the level of healthy game and other wildlife. The clubs make it possible for generations of fathers and sons, as well as family members of both sexes (One club president is a woman), to enjoy traditional outdoor recreation together where it would otherwise be impossible. This is just the sort of family life that our society craves.
b. Elimination of Access: By eliminating traditional hunting clubs, government acquisition of land, whether through conservation easements or fee simple, eliminates access to the land in the practical sense.
In acquiring the 139,000 acres of land from Champion International Corporation in 1999, the State of New York announced that all 45 leases of lands by private hunting groups will be phased out. Three hundred hunting camps will be demolished. Boulders are already appearing across roads to block off access.
As years go by and roads are not maintained, access in any practical sense will gradually end, even for the supposed "public" which the State claims will replace the hunters who currently lease the lands. The Champion International tracts will join the other three million acres of State-owned land in the Adirondacks, where hikers rarely enter the back country and hunters find most of the land inaccessible for taking out game.
8. Profitably surviving in a global economy
The claims that conservation easements are necessary for industry to survive global competition, realize equity and improve profitability are partly based in distortions and are at best only partly true. The land is often located in an area where development pressures are virtually non-existent, tying the owner to the land for various reasons.
a. The burden of land ownership to competitiveness: The forest or farm owner may find that the rate of return on investment may be low enough that other investments have such a greater rate of return as to make him leave the business. The rate of return and the present worth of this investment will be increased as a result of the purchase price of the easement and by the real estate tax reduction, if granted, during future years.
The sale of the conservation easement, however, will give the landowner a competitive advantage over others in the marketplace, and drive more landowners to sell such easements, creating a trend that is harmful to future private property ownership. Thus the government permanently reduces the operation of the free market by the purchase of conservation easements.
Through conservation easements, however, the government may also place impositions which reduce the opportunities for profit, such as by controlling timber harvest or by eliminating revenue from hunting club leases.
b. Non-liquidity of land: The landowner may not be able to sell the land to invest in other enterprises and he may not be able to develop the land. Only a specific case study can determine whether the burden of land ownership is excessive, driving the landowner to seek to sell an ownership share to government.
In some regions of the country such as New York's Adirondacks, choice is foreclosed by the regulatory impositions on property owners. Low profitability can result from the effects of either the cost of taxation or the burden of regulation, or the combined effects of both.
In such cases, the government imposes regulations and taxes and relieves the burdens of regulation and taxes by sullying title to land through the acquisition of conservation easements.
It should be kept in mind that even if taxes were lowered and the regulatory burden eased, land may still be subdivided and sold, as a result of market considerations.
c. Profitability: In order to increase profitability, the landowner may elect to sell conservation easements irrespective of the issues of low profitability or the burdens of government. Where funding for conservation easements is readily available, political decisions result in purchases of
conservation easements as a result of insider relationships with landowners seeking windfalls or interested in seeing short term jumps in profitability.
9. Relieving the real estate tax burden
Real estate taxes are unquestionably a burden to the forest industry in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, according to a federally funded study published in 1994. (12) Agriculture pays a level of real estate taxes that are disproportionate to the real estate tax-based services received by farmers. By transferring a portion of the title to government or a land trust affiliated with government, conservation easements are used to reduce the real estate taxes that the property owner must pay
a. The better solution of strict "current use" taxation: Environmentalists advocate the wrong solution to the real estate burden. Their solution involves encumbering the title to land in perpetuity. The solution which would perpetuate the American structure of private land
ownership would be to reduce real estate taxes on the basis of land use. A simple change to current use taxation would accomplish the same result for the landowner as the transfer of conservation easements without the landowner having to forfeit equity in his land. This solution also saves the taxpaying public the cost of purchasing the conservation easements.
b. Other existing solutions: Existing solutions available in the tax structure of certain states include agricultural districts and forestry tax exemptions. Unfortunately, these statutes may require commitments that penalize property owners when land is sold or when market uses dictate the sale of timber at a time that differs from the government-approved forestry plan. However, by avoiding perpetual government control over land and other disadvantages, these programs are superior to conservation easements.
c. Eliminating certain taxes on land which doesn't require relevant government services: A further improvement in real estate tax structure would be to completely eliminate charges for school taxes on unimproved forest land and land in solely agricultural production.
d. The uncertainty of tax abatement through conservation easements: The promise of a reduction of real estate taxes by selling a conservation easement is sometimes false, however, because, where no development pressure exists, the tax assessor will often already be assessing the land on the basis of forest, recreational, or agricultural value. New York State case
law bears this out, agreeing with the local government where such a seller of a conservation easement makes a claim for tax abatement. (13)
10. Tax advantages of conservation easements
Tax advantages of transactions and ownership relationships of conservation easements are based on fundamental violations of property rights in the tax codes, and on inequities, loopholes and favoritism in the tax codes and their enforcement. While enjoying their non-profit status, the land trusts present enticing financial prospectuses to landowners to persuade them to sell land and interests of land to them for preservation. The elimination of these injustices would help to stabilize the ownership of rural land and would distribute the tax burden straightforwardly and more equitably. Furthermore, all of the tax advantages are artificially constructed by government and interest groups and should be eliminated by eliminating the taxes themselves.
a. IRS deductions for "donations": Land trusts pressure property owners to sell "below market" and claim a tax deduction on their income tax return. It is widely said that inflated current appraisals are used to claim or increase these deductions, and that the IRS ignores the inaccuracy of the inflated appraisals because of the influence of the land trusts.
b. Reducing real estate taxes: The claim that conservation easements are necessary to relieve the real estate tax burden is false because fair, straightforward measures to alleviate real estate taxes exist which would cost less. (See above, Section 9.)
d. Estate taxes: Landowners and heirs are pressured by land trusts to deed over property and conservation easements to avoid or reduce estate taxes. The use of inflated appraisals is said to widely come into play here. The IRS should bring enforcement if such reputed land trust practice
is indeed true. But, more fundamentally, estate taxes should be eliminated as confiscatory.
e. Capital gains tax: The land trusts also exploit the motivation to avoid capital gains taxes to encourage the deeding of interests in land to a land trust or the government. Other approaches advocated by tax reformers are to take account for inflation in capital gains, allow more favorable
deductions for long-term capital gains, and to otherwise reduce or eliminate the capital gains tax.
11. Economic impact on communities resulting from failure to maintain tax base of private land
Discussed below are the direct impacts to the real estate tax base that could result from an expansion of government and non-profit land trust acquisition of conservation easements. In addition, the future tax base will gradually be negatively effected by conservation easements as a result of foreclosed options for land development. The inflexibility of conservation easements will ultimately cause the latter effect to be profound. Furthermore, much of the land that is split between conservation easements and residual title may ultimately slide 100 percent into government ownership, a status under which negative tax base patterns for local municipalities are well-established.
a. Federal government: When the federal government acquires land, it removes this land from the tax rolls. Payments in lieu of taxes are sometimes arranged with the federal government, but maintaining these payments at appropriate levels in future years is problematic. Further intervention by Congress is sometimes required. Or formulas based on timber harvests may become outdated as harvests are curtailed for environmental reasons; reductions of such payments to localities in the Northwest have forced municipalities to curtain basic services such as road maintenance. Since policies haven't been completely formulated, it is unclear how federal acquisition of partial title to land in the form of conservation easements will effect the tax base.
b. Land trusts: Where land is acquired by non-profit land trusts for preservation purposes in states with laws similar to New York's, the non-profit is not subject to real estate taxes. Some land trusts voluntarily pay real estate taxes on their land and some do not, or a land trust may
voluntarily pay taxes on land in some locations but not in other locations (while maintaining that it "always' pays taxes). Land trusts that voluntarily pay taxes may drop that policy. The land trusts always oppose any movement in the legislature to remove the tax-exempt status of land held for ecological, wilderness or similar purposes. Where interests such as conservation easements are acquired by tax-exempt non-profits, it is unclear precisely how these acquisitions will affect the long-term ability of local municipalities to collect real estate taxes on the non-profit interests in land. In one New York municipality, land trusts own fully 10 percent of the land area.
c. State government: When States acquire the land or interests in land, the policies of payment of local real estate taxes vary greatly. Within New York's borders, the policy of State payment of real estate taxes on large park or forest tracts varies depending on the category for the land established by the legislature. State-owned Forest Preserve land in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains is subject to local real estate taxes. However, the State has made a practice of suing local municipalities that attempt to assess State-owned lands at fair market value. The cost of defending such a lawsuit routinely exceeds $100,000, a great burden to a small rural municipality. Thus, even when the law provides for State payment of taxes, it is difficult for municipalities to collect the taxes that the State is legally obligated to pay to the locality. With respect to conservation easements, New York State has established a policy of paying a set share, or allocation, of the taxes on lands in the Forest preserve for which it holds the easements; at present, however, the experience with the easements under the current law is too new to see the full impact on local real estate taxes.
Overview and Summary
In order to enact the conservation easement law in 1983, New York passed a statute that specifically swept away centuries of common law that had protected property from such non-functional negative encumbrances. (14) "Conservation easements work by splitting an estate in real property into two or more parts and throwing one of those parts into the dustbin of
history." as cogently summarized by James Burling, senior counsel for Pacific Legal Foundation. (15); The much-heralded long-term benefits of conservation easements are questionable, at best. Future use of the land for working forests, and possibly for agriculture, is questionable. There are no environmental benefits for forestry conservation easements, and environmental benefits for
agricultural conservation easements may be strictly confined to the maintenance of open space, rather than the long-term perpetuation of agriculture.
The main benefits to the timber industry are immediate cash flow, and, perhaps, real estate tax reduction. Except for tax reduction, which is questionable and can be more fairly and easily achieved by other means, long-term future impacts on forestry are negative and may foreclose future forestry. The relatively immediate benefits to agriculture are unreliable because of inconsistent terms to agricultural conservation easements and enforcement practices of government agencies; long-term benefits are even more questionable while the future negative impacts are specific and significant.
The current popularity of conservation easements is based on distortions purveyed by interest groups, especially land trusts; misconceptions of land-use incentives; unjust tax structures; and anti-competitive, anti-private property concepts. In addition, political pressure and pork barrel is involved in the passage of law and the funding for land acquisition program, including those involving conservation easements.
Exactly contrary to the claims of advocates, conservation easements present a threat to the future of rural economies and cultures.
Conservation easements are not a private conservation achievement, but instead are based on fundamental changes in the structure of private property to abandon a large proportion of the split title to perpetual government ownership and all (in the case of forestry) or a large part (in
the case of agriculture) to government control. Conservation easements tie up property indefinitely, and do not allow flexibility for future change in needs or values.
Furthermore, considering that the lands may become a burden because of the conservation easements, the future of ownership of these lands is uncertain and they may end up entirely owned by government.
(1) LaGrasse, Carol W., The Property Owner's Experience, Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc., 1998. See chapters 14, 15, and 16.
(2) Examples of industrial forest landowners who have sold off large conservation easements but are later seeking to dispose of the residual title are beginning to surface in upstate New York. In 1993, Lyons Falls Paper Co. sought help from the State to buy conservation easements. The
company had been helped with a State easement two years earlier but, according to the Associated Press at the time, "that money, from a 1986 bond act, is all gone now." (Michael Hill, Associated Press, "Mill in the middle of easement controversy," Post-Star, Glens Falls, Mar. 16, 1993).
According to a regional group, the Blue Line Council, environmentalists sounded a false alarm in 1991 when they said that 87,000 acres in the Adirondacks which Lassiter Properties put up for sale were threatened by development. The Blue Line Council pointed out that 40,000 acres of the land were covered by conservation easements that the State had acquired in 1988, when The Nature Conservancy acted as a third party intermediary. This example also demonstrates how environmental organizations continue to fabricate the threat of development even after conservation easements are acquired. (Mele, Chris, "Blue Line group tells state not to buy Lassiter land," Adirondack Daily Enterprise, April 18, 1991)
(3) "Buffalo developers sell pieces of ranch ownership," Wyoming Livestock Roundup, May 16, 1998, p. l. Eighteen forty-acre "ranch-steads," totaling 720 acres, would raise $18 million, leaving the great expanse of the 10,400-acre Waggonhead Ranch, 22 miles from Douglas, largely open for grazing.
(4) Franciosi, Robert, Ph. D., "Preserving Open Space-The Private Alternative," Goldwater Institute, Feb. 1999, p. 8.
(5) LaGrasse, Carol W., "Unrepentant Congress," Positions on Property, July 1995. This expose' called attention to the problem of conservation easements imposed on farms by the Farm's Home Administration (now the Farm Services Agency). As a result, in 1996, an act of Congress repealed the ability of the Secretary of Agriculture to impose wetlands easements, but
vaguely worded wildlife habitat easements are still imposed.
(6) Miller, Dennis, "President's Report," Landowners Association of North Dakota newsletter, March 2000, p. 1.
(7) Sayre, William R., Chairman, Forest Policy Task Force, Associated Industries of Vermont, "Forest Land Easements-Freezing the Future," The Best Alternative-Enhancing Private Property Rights, Proceedings of the Fourth Annual New York Conference on Private Property Rights, Property Rights Foundation of America, 2000, p. 13.
(8) Canham, Hugh O., Ph. D., and King, Kevin S., Just the Facts-An Overview of New York's Wood-Based Economy and Forest Resource, Empire State Forest Products Association and New York Center for Forestry Research and Development, SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry, 1998, pp. 6, 17.
(9) James W. Sewall Company, "Northern Forest Lands Council Land Conversion Study," Old Towne, Maine, April 9, 1993.
(10) New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Lands and Forests, Assessment Report, Adirondack Windstorm, July 15, 1995, Draft-November 20, 1995, pp. 23 & 25.
(11) Chase, Alston, Playing God in Yellowstone, Atlantic Monthly Press, Boston, 1986
(12) A federally funded study by the Northern Forest Lands Council reported, "Rising property taxes have severe impacts on the ability of landowners to own and manage forest land," urging local governments to tax the land based on current use, rather than development potential, according to John H. Cushman, Jr., as reported in "Property Tax Changes Are Urged To Help Preserve Northeast Forest," New York Times, March 4, 1994.
The economist's report prepared for the Council states, "It appears that timber management in the Northern Forest Lands Region is only profitable at low taxes per acre (generally under $2 per acre) and even at that level, only the better sites are profitable." (Hugh O. Canham, Ph. D., Forest
Economist, "Property Taxes and Economics of Timberland Management in the Northern Forest Lands Region," Feb. 1992, p. 15.)
(13) Adirondack Park Mountain Reserve v. Board of Assessors of the Town of North Hudson, Appellate Division Third Department, New York State, 1984.
(14) Environmental Conservation Law, Art. 49, Title 3: 49-0301 through 49-0311, McKinney's Consolidated Laws of New York. See Especially 49-0305, "Conservation easements; certain common law rules not applicable."
(15) Burling, James, Pacific Legal Foundation, "Conservation Easements," Comments at the Wise Use Conference, Reno, Nevada, May 1999, pre-publication copy, p. 1