Economic Opportunities: Conservation Easements

The Rural Planning Area Working Group hosted four workshops in 2004 to explore ideas for enhancing economic sustainability on the ranches. These include conservation easements, ecotourism, Wind Energy Production, low-impact housing, Wood products, value-added beef products, and native seed production.

The first workshop was held on June 11th and explored CONSERVATION EASEMENTS. Presentations were made by BILLY CORDASCO of Babbitt Ranches, MIKE DENBY of the Nature Conservancy (TNC), and SHELLEY SILBERT of NAU's Center for Sustainable Environments, formerly with the Nature Conservancy. Guests included JAN BLACKMAN with HUFFORD HORSTMAN, who did legal work on easements, and GREG GOODWIN, a volunteer with TNC and who also worked on easements.

BILLY discussed in detail the importance of family business planning with consideration of conservation easements. these included the three aspects of a family business:

  • production and profit
  • family interests
  • ownership

The Babbitt Ranches brands

Family involvement and legacy are as important as the bottom line. In terms of easements, economic return, continued equity growth, and innovative opportunities are all important to consider.

MIKE, who was a practicing lawyer but is now a field representative for TNC, discussed the details of what an easement is and how it works. Easements are a donation or sale of certain property rights, usually the right to build. Benefits include income from the sale of the development rights and income tax benefits. For IRS purposes, easements need to be permanent, but temporary easements do exist and are essentially term agreements to prevent growth and development for a period of time. Easements explain exactly what rights are relinquished and what rights are preserved; for example, an easement could be written that prohibited housing development but allowed wind towers.

SHELLEY explained there are financial resources for conservation easements, and the Land Trust Alliance is a good resource. She discussed the process of determining values, including environmental values. The process of negotiating the details of the easement needs to be very specific about uses allowed and not allowed such as roads, fencing, water and stock tanks, mining, and ranch housing. Easements have a value of about 55% of the value of the land, and raising funds to purchase an easement is not as easy as raising funds for outright purchase.