Bill to Regulate Conservation Easements Introduced into Montana Legislature

Sierra Times
Published 03. 5. 03 at 15:15 Sierra Time

Legislation declares that deed restrictions must protect the future use of natural resources

A new bill introduced into the Montana Legislature tackles conservation easements from the point of view of landowners, rural communities, and the resource-based economy. Shifting direction from the preservationistís agenda, which has put conservation easement legislation into effect in most of the states, the bill would revise the law to give to give landowners a more level playing field, empower local counties to evaluate conservation easements, and prohibit conservation easements from tying up natural resources into the future.

In his bill, Representative Rick Maedje declares that the "traditional uses of the land and natural resources of Montana are critical to the economic vitality of Montana and the heritage of its citizens."

This statement is the hub around which all of the protections for the economics and cultural heritage in the bill are structured.

First of all, the bill sets the groundwork for regulating conservation easements by requiring that those who acquire such encumbrances become certified as Encumbrance Brokers, a new category of licensure. Critical to the billís consumer protections for the landowner is the two-year cooling-off period before the conservation easement can be transferred. The landowner would also have the right to veto the transfer of the conservation easement in the future.

"These important provisions to protect the landowner should be applauded by all who believe in the American tradition of private property," declared Carol W. LaGrasse, the president of the Stony Creek, N. Y. Ė based Property Rights Foundation of America, which has a web site warning of the hazards of conservation easements.

Protections for rural communities in the bill focus on leveling the playing field, to reverse the present situation where the land trusts have the upper hand because of their sophistication, wealth, and federal funding. The bill would prohibit land trusts from paying for conservation easements with federal moneys. The local municipal government would have to grant approval before a conservation easement could be recorded. The county planning office would help in the review of the easement.

The bill faces off against the current assault on the rural economy by the acquisition of conservation easements by land trusts, who commonly flip the easements to the federal government for wildlife preservation to the exclusion of resource uses. The legislation would flatly prohibit easements that prevent natural resource use.

"I applaud the legislation in Montana that would bring the immoral frauds of the land trust industry to heel," said J. Zane Walley, of the Alamogordo, N.M.-based Paragon Foundation, a group devoted to defending the future of the West.

"The land trusts have been running rampant over the property rights of unknowing citizens. Their slick publications, friendly titles, and distortions have seduced countless Americans into giving up their land rights," declared Mr. Walley, who is widely sought by ranchers for information about issues related to conservation easement.


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