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For the week of Jan. 12 through Jan. 18, 2000

Local land trust a catalyst for protecting the valley’s open space resources

Express Staff Writer

Mission statement:

"The Wood River Land Trust is dedicated to protecting for future generations the scenic, agricultural, recreational, historic and wildlife values of the Wood River watershed by working cooperatively with the community and landowners who wish to protect their lands in perpetuity."

The Wood River Land Trust was created in 1993, according to executive director Scott Boettger, by a group of residents in the Wood River Valley who were concerned about the loss of open space resources due primarily to residential development on private land.

Recently, for example, the land trust secured a conservation easement along the Highway 75 Scenic Corridor north of Hailey. The 26-acre Cloverly Ranch easement, located between the highway and the Big Wood River, was donated to the land trust by lifelong Hailey resident John Chapman.

Indeed, the WRLT is now viewed by many residents as a primary vehicle for preserving the stunning natural beauty and wildlife habitat of the Wood River Valley.

"We decided what we needed to do was encourage conservation easements through a formal land trust and give people an outlet to preserve their land through voluntary easement conservation," Boettger said.

According to Boettger, a conservation easement is a voluntary restriction placed on property which limits one or more uses of that property. It is a recorded deed restriction which runs in perpetuity with the property so the restrictions are still in place even if the property is transferred, inherited or sold.

"A conservation easement protects a property from future development, yet allows for continued current uses such as residential, recreational, agricultural or ranching," Boettger said. "The goal is to protect some important conservation quality such as a sensitive wildlife habitat, prime agricultural land, a public trail or scenic view."

Land owners who volunteer a conservation easement through the WRLT may qualify for tax deductions equal to the value of the easement. However, Boettger said, not all land owners who wish to donate conservation easements qualify for tax deductions because they don’t make enough money.

"Conservation easements allow someone who doesn’t make enough money to gain from tax incentives the ability to realize the financial return of subdivision without actually developing their land," Boettger said.

"This is our goal, to offer people who can’t benefit from tax incentives an alternative to development and to compensate them for preserving valuable open space resources."

Boettger said a valuable element of conservation easements is how they can help in estate planning.

"Landowners often don’t realize the impact of estate taxes which can be as high as 55 percent. The value of an estate and the subsequent tax is not based on what was originally paid for the land but on current market values," he said. "In an area like the Wood River Valley with skyrocketing land values, this can be devastating, sometimes forcing families to sell their land just to pay the estate tax."

Since 1996, the WRLT has conserved 2300 acres of open space easements throughout Blaine, Custer and Camas counties.


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