Thursday, January 31, 2008

Conservation Easements Workshop

In the Hall of Mirrors, East Conference Room, at 1:30, the Farm and Forestry Working group met up with members of House. The purpose of the Gold Room Workshop was to explain conservation easements and why people should care.

Lou Lunte of the Nature Conservancy told lawmakers the nuts and bolts of easements explaining that A conservation easement is a restriction placed on a piece of property to protect its associated resources.

He pointed out that Idaho's working farms, ranches and timberlands offer the way of life, rural character, open space and outdoor recreation vital to maintaining Idaho's natural resource heritage. He said its important that all groups work together to protect and preserve some of Idaho's most critical and important working lands. Incentives will help ensure that workings lands remain working, and will reward good stewards of the land.

Lunte pointed out that easements can take many different forms. The Ranch, Farm, and Forest Protection Act would: 1. Provide state income tax credits to willing landowner who make a qualifying conservation contribution. 2. Allow recipients to sell tax credits to willing buyers. 3. Focus the allocation of tax credits on working lands that provide important benefits to fish and wildlife. 4. Create sufficient oversight to ensure effective use of tax credits and safeguard against abuses, and 5. Provide sufficient incentive while minimizing the impact to the state budget.

Kennon McClintock explained how easements would work on private forests and how Forest Capital keeps their gates open to hikers, hunters and fishermen. He stressed the importance of keeping endangered species habitat in tact. Nate Helm discussed how important it is to keep land open for sportsmen and game habitat. The committee asked a dozen questions and the meeting adjourned. The conservation legislation is scheduled for introduction later in the session.

The Idaho Farm Bureau worked with the group last summer and into the fall, producing the video, Idaho Ranch Farm and Forest Initiave. Steve Ritter and Jake Putnam video taped todays proceedings, Kent Lauer monitored the meeting.

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