Guest editorial: Conserving our land and our way of life
May 15, 2015
The lands, waters and open spaces in and around Summit County are a part of our history, our character and our way of life. These acres are more than just land; they constitute an important part of our identity. When these places that connect us to our past disappear a small piece of who we are is also erased.
Our farms, ranches, viewsheds and rangelands are under pressure as never before. Nationwide, 1.5 million acres of open space are developed every year an area the size of Delaware. We are witnessing this troubling trend in our own backyard, which is why the Summit Land Conservancy (and others?) is focused on saving what’s left of our community’s irreplaceable scenic landscapes.
Tough economic times have forced middle-class farmers and ranchers to make the heartbreaking decision to sell off lands that have been in families for generations. When this happens, more than land is lost. We also lose a way of life and a connection to our heritage. Everyone in this community is left poorer when farms, open spaces and scenic vistas are compromised. It puts our clean water and fresh air at risk, and it diminishes the natural beauty that makes this special place feel like home. Farm and ranch families need more choices than simply selling out to highest bidder.
To counter these losses, groups like the Summit Land Conservancy work with landowners to implement an entirely voluntary form of land conservation that keeps landscapes in their natural state forever, ensuring working farms and ranches continue to define our Utah landscape. This method, known as a conservation easement, allows landowners to trade their development rights for a limited tax deduction. In Summit County and across Utah, this approach has been an enormous success.
Although we all need farms to survive, it gets tougher every day to make a living in agriculture. Thus, it is not enough to save land; family farmers and ranchers need to make a living. This is why conservation easements are so appealing. Easements allows farm families to monetize their development rights often a farm or ranch’s most valuable asset and keep the working lands in working hands. Lands placed into easements remain privately owned and managed, and they can continue to be farmed, grazed, hunted or used for outdoor recreation and wildlife conservation. The lands remain on county tax rolls, strengthening our local economy and creating jobs.
We’ve seen this working across Summit County, preserving the Land of Oz (our family farm), in Round Valley, as well as critical farms along the Weber River that mitigate flooding, preserve water quality, and provide important habitat for wildlife as well as local agri-business.
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These local conservation success stories are largely possible because of a federal tax incentive put into place in 2006. Unfortunately, Congress allowed this law to expire, leaving local landowners who want to place lands into conservation in limbo. Transactions to permanently secure the natural beauty that defines Summit County are hanging in the balance.
The land conservation incentive is a welcome source of bipartisan agreement. Everyone across the political spectrum supports making the tax credit permanent it passed the House of Representatives earlier this year on an overwhelming bipartisan vote with the support of our Congressman Rob Bishop and is now pending before the Senate. Senator Hatch has been a leader on land conservation for his entire career and we are urging him and Senator Lee to vote to send this important bill to the President without delay.
Preventing the loss and fragmentation of Utah’s natural outdoor heritage is important to all of us. Making this tax incentive permanent would represent the most significant conservation achievement this century and we are closer than ever to realizing it. For the sake of our lands, our waters and our ways of life, we are counting on our leaders in Washington to restore and make permanent the land conservation tax incentive this year.