Farming and Conservation Easements: A Win-Win Partnership

Final Report for CS04-028

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2004: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Principal Investigator:
Mark Hostetler
University of Florida
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Project Information

Abstract:

The objective of this project was to produce and distribute a ½ hour video that educates farmers and local communities about what conservation easements are and how they work. We partnered with two land trusts (Red Hills Conservation Program and Conservation Trust for Florida) and two farmers to explore how conservation easements could be implemented on working lands. We filmed participants in Boston, GA and Evinston, FL. The Conservation Easement video has been completed and can be seen on the web (http://livinggreen.ifas.ufl.edu). The program is currently being aired in over 40 TV markets in the Southeast and will be broadcasted nationally through the National Educational Telecommunications Association. DVDs of the show are being distributed by Land Trust Alliance, by the Red Hills Conservation Program, and by the Conservation Trust for Florida.

Introduction

Urban areas are rapidly expanding in North America and worldwide; the estimated conversion rate of lands to urban use exceeds population growth by a factor of six to ten. As noted by the Rural and Family Lands Protection Act, a common cause of urban conversion is due to increased value of rural land located near urban land. Diminished returns on farm products, development pressure, and high property taxes leave many farmers with little choice but to sell their land. Collectively, the loss of rural areas is significant and can adversely affect our natural resources. Communities throughout the U.S are exploring ways to preserve the natural integrity of their rural areas by creating prosperous rural communities.

One tool that can be used by communities and farmers is a conservation easement. Essentially, a conservation easement is a legal agreement between a farmer and a land trust, government agency, or other entity that maintains land in agricultural and/or natural uses to protect the owner’s agricultural and/or conservation interests. Conservation easements offer great flexibility. Each conservation easement is unique and typically customized in consultations between the farmer and a partner organization. It is a legal agreement designed to consider both the farmer’s needs and the conservation objectives. For example, conservation easements can be designed to allow continued farming or ranching activities, hunting, and other recreational uses. An easement might apply to just a portion of the property. In most cases, conservation easements are perpetual, so the any land use restrictions remain if the land is sold or passed on to heirs. In return for donating an easement, a farmer can receive significant tax savings; as another option, the landowner can sell the development rights to a land trust for cash up front.

Project Objectives:

The objective of this project was to produce and distribute a ½ hour video that educates farmers and local communities about what conservation easements are and how they work. The video is targeted to a general audience and will also be used in workshops for private landowners.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Frank Counts
  • Busy Shires

Research

Materials and methods:

The production of this ½ hour video on Conservation Easements was a collaborative effort between University of Florida’s WUFT TV, Department of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation (WEC), and Conservation Trust for Florida (CTF). Drs. Mark Hostetler and Martin Main (of WEC) co-produced the video. They were the primary writers and editors for the content of the video. WUFT TV’s primary role was to supply technical assistance, equipment, and a videographer and have agreed to air and distribute the show once it was finished. CTF helped identify and recruit local farmers and other people associated with the implementation of conservation easements to appear on the video.

The video is divided into three sections: introduction, case studies, and review and conclusion. A mixture of interviews with people, host commentary, and on-site filming explored some of the unique strategies employed to implement conservation easements on working farms.

For the case studies section, we interviewed several farmers/ranchers and associated land trusts that have implemented conservation easements. We explored why the farmer/rancher decided to implement a conservation easement, the steps involved, and some of the lessons learned. We interviewed two farmers that have worked with local communities and environmental organizations to establish conservation easements on their properties. We also interviewed several land trust participants to learn more about what is involved in a conservation easement.
available below.

Research results and discussion:

The program is being aired in over 40 TV markets throughout the Southeast and will be broadcasted nationally through the National Educational Telecommunications Association beginning January of 2007. The potential audience for the 40 TV markets is on the range of millions of viewers and will be dramatically increased when the program airs nationally. The program can be viewed at http://livinggreen.ifas.ufl.edu/tv_episodes/conservation_easements.html.

Through our partnership with Conservation Trust for Florida (CTF), the DVD of the program is being shown at workshops targeting farmers and other landowners. The first workshop for farmers and landowners was conducted on April 4, 2006 with 60 landowners. CTF has promoted the Green Living CE DVD through CTF’s protecting Horse Country Project, Farmlands Program and Greenways Project. They have shared 80 DVD’s with landowners in Marion, Putnam, Levy and Alachua Counties. Business partners such as Marion County Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association, Wilson-Miller and Associates, Adams Ranch have received copies. CTF has promoted the DVD on our website at www.conserveflorida.org and through their bi-annual newsletter.

With the Red Hills Conservation Program of Tall Timbers they have promoting the DVD with the national Land Trust Alliance and the 36-member Alliance of Florida Land Trusts. The feedback they received from both private landowners and land trusts concerning the content and quality of the DVD has been outstanding. They are currently using the DVD in easement seminars with landowners and their legal and tax counsels.

In addition, the national Land Trust Alliance is promoting the DVD on their website http://www.lta.org.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

We have completed several Extension documents on conservation options for private landowners and they are available online.

· Paying Private Landowners to Conserve Wildlife Habitat: A Unique Approach to Conservation (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/UW138)
· Improving, Restoring, and Managing Natural Resources in Florida: Sources of Technical Assistance for Rural Landowners (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/UW218 )
· Conservation Options for Private Landowners in Florida (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/UW194 )

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

In 2005, we met our objectives to film all portions of the ½ hour video and finished editing the ½ hour program by March of 2006.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.