Thousands Of Acres Conserved In Final Days Of Year

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(Host) The last days of December have seen the conservation of thousands of acres of land in Vermont and neighboring New Hampshire towns.

Both the Vermont Land Trust and the Upper Valley Land Trust report a flurry of conservation easements by landowners, who want to complete their gifts by year’s end.

But land trust officials say tax benefits are only a small part of the motivation for preserving land.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) Earlier this month Barclay Ward and his family gave away the right to develop or subdivide 235 mostly wooded acres in Brookline. Ward says his father bought the land in 1938.

(Ward) "It’s got a beautiful mowing in front, looking … over to Putney Mountain. And it’s just a really, really special place to me and to the family and every one of us just wants this land preserved."

(Keese)   The Wards worked with the Vermont Land Trust for almost a year before they even thought about the tax implications. But when they did, it made sense to tie things up before the start of the new tax year.

(Annes) "People like to get their projects completed before January first, so this is often a busy time."

(Keese) Elise Annes is the Vermont Land Trust’s vice president for community relations. She says the land trust has closed, or will close, on 17 separate conservation easements this month.

That includes the Wards. Annes says there’s a couple in Eden who’ve preserved 570 acres of forest bordering a pristine pond.

There’s also an old farm in Shrewsbury that’s recently been restored by new owners to active use.

(Annes) "… and they want to see that farm kept in agriculture … forever and so they’re donating an option to purchase at agricultural value along with a conservation easement on their 90-acre farm."

(Keese) Not all conservation easements are donated. Many times farms, or scenic views are preserved when the land trust purchases development rights from a farmer or landowner. The money for that comes from a mix of state, federal, local and private funds.

Jeanie McIntyre is President of the Upper Valley Land Trust, which serves 45 communities in Vermont and New Hampshire.

She says that while tax breaks may drive the schedule in December, they’re almost never the motivation for conserving land.

(McIntyre) "The tax benefit is a thank you, in a way, to landowners who are able to make this kind of gift. But it’s been a long time since we worked with somebody whose reason for preserving land is a tax benefit."

(Keese) The Upper Valley Land Trust does see a flurry of conservation easements in December. The group has closed on seven in the last few weeks.

They include a 240-acre wetland in Hanover, and a parcel in Weathersfield that’s been in the same family since the 1700s. There’s also a 200-acre parcel in Strafford that includes a lovingly maintained sugarbush that will be preserved and passed on to young sugarmakers at a price they can afford to pay.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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