About Conservation Easements:
Warning to County Commissioners
By John Griffith
Coos County, Oregon
ecologic - 6/1/02
County commissioners should pay attention to conservation easements
and CEs' effects on tax bases, and more specifically on how CEs' affect
values of tax-foreclosed property.
Here in Coos County, Oregon, our Exclusive Farm Use (EFU) zoned land
cannot be developed: So development rights are not CE marketable. Here,
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Services Agency,
Ducks Unlimited and fellow travelers have been buying the rights to
prohibit farm uses, such as haying and grazing, drainage, and essential
land maintenance. They want cows gone to enhance "wetland
values" and create noxious weed reservoirs.
They buy CEs regardless of the land's agricultural value. NRCS runs
interference for them by hooking stressed producers to green land
NRCS/Farm Services' CEs have put farmers out of business. From a
county perspective, if the CE involves a separate tax lot or the
majority of a tax lot with little value (i.e., that doesn't include the
farmer's house), CE clients are foolish to pay taxes on CE-encumbered
land, since they cannot practice agriculture on it ever again. Minimum
NRCS/Farm Services CE terms are 10 years; twice as long as farmers must
maintain drainage ditches to have the right to maintain them again under
Land trusts that intend to roll their public funds-purchased
properties to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife or another government agency
for "habitat" or refuges have incentive to pay their taxes in
anticaption of the second public purchase.
Ordinary CE sellers are wise not to pay their property taxes, let CE
property go to the county through tax foreclosure, and stick counties
with worthless land. Counties usually cannot bank the tax-inherited land
for wetlands mitigation or other useful public or private purposes
because most CEs don't allow mitigation use.