Conservation Easements in Ohio and in Montana 17 Years Ago

Kidron, Ohio, Amish country Amish Country, Ohio (Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015)
United Nations agencies working against the economic needs and wishes of U.S. citizens compiled a blueprint for achieving Sustainable Development called U.N. Agenda 21. This 40-chapter document (about 300 pages) addresses every facet of human life and how Sustainable Development should be implemented through local, state, and federal government.

With its grant-making power (‘visioning grants’ and ‘challenge grants’) and conservation easements, the federal government promoted the Sustainable Development idea and policies to the state and local levels with the creation of an army of new community of Sustainable Development NGOs (non-government organizations) such as the American Planning Association, the Sustainable Resource Center, and the Institute for Sustainable Development.

Conservation easements, known also as conservation covenants, agricultural easements, and conservation restrictions are contracts between a landowner and a conservation organization, giving the conservation trust power over the use of the land for years or in perpetuity. Such easements “run with the land,” and present and future landowners must abide by this conservation contract which is recorded in the local land records as the easement becomes part of the title for the property.

Conservations easements include a laundry list of objectives established by the land trust and agreed to by the farmer:
– Maintain and improve water quality (this may include onerous conditions to the farmer’s use or collection of water, including rain puddles and snowmelt)
– Grow healthy forests
– Maintain and improve wildlife habitat and migration corridors
– Protect scenic views; anything the farmer may desire to build or plant/grow cannot interfere with the view shed
– Land must be managed for sustainable agriculture and forestry as determined by the trust that holds the farmer’s conservation easement and is subject to rigorous and frequent inspections.

Real estate development and subdivisions are strictly forbidden in a conservation easement. The decision to place land under conservation easement for tax benefits is voluntary but the land can become locked in perpetuity, no matter who inherits or buys the land in question. The restrictions placed on the land become permanent and it can reduce the resale value of the property.

In every state, the actual conservation easement contract is kept private between the land owner and the land trust.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture announced its local agricultural easements approved for purchase on June 4, 2015 for “local sponsors to purchase agricultural easements on 54 family farms representing 7,512 acres in 26 counties.”

The local sponsors included land trusts, counties, a township, and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts. They received funds to make the purchase from the Clean Ohio Fund and to manage the Local Agricultural Easement Purchase Program (LAEPP). The easement purchases are advertised as insurance that “farms remain permanently in agricultural production.” The ulterior motives are much divorced from this public statement.

Farmers who want to lock their land in such conservation easement contracts are financially rewarded and must meet certain criteria:
– Farm must be larger than 40 acres or next to an already “preserved” farm
– Must actively engage in farming
– Participate in the Current Agricultural Use Valuation program
– Prove good stewardship of the land (Farmers already take good care of their land because it represents their livelihood.)
– Be supported by local government
– Not be in close proximity to real estate development
– The money received from the conservation easement purchase can be spent any way the farmer wishes; however, “most reinvest it in their farm operation.”

The Ohio Farmland Preservation program derives its funds from the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund, approved by voters in 2008. The purchase of conservation easements is made through a “competitive process” from “willing sellers.”

According to its website, there are 55,947 acres of land locked in conservation perpetuity, “preserved” under permanent easements. “From 2002-2014, 247 family farms in 53 counties have collectively preserved 45,576 acres in agricultural production.” A list of counties approved for easements in 2015 is included here.
The Office of Farmland Preservation lists the 2015 Clean Ohio LAEPP recipients by county, the specific local sponsoring land trust, the name of the farmer, Tier I or Tier II, acreage per farm, ODA’s contribution to the purchase offer in dollars, and the actual final offer. Who is supplying the difference?

I imagine that it would be hard for a farmer to turn down an offer of $500,000 to “preserve” his farming land, especially if they were strapped for cash. Often, it is difficult to see the bigger picture in the future, beyond one’s farm, and to understand that such conservation easement contracts are not just about being a good steward of your farm and of the environment. They also represent control of private property and its use.

As a matter of fact, the sample deed for the federal government states on page 18, “To HAVE AND TO HOLD the above-described Agricultural Easement to the use, benefit, and behalf of the Grantees, and the United States and their successors and assigns forever.”
Here is the Local Agricultural Easement Purchase Program (LAEPP) approved sample deed for the state of Ohio.
The Ohio Farmland Preservation Map can be found here, including agricultural easements held by ODA and Agricultural Security Areas.
Agricultural Security Areas (ASA) are part of a voluntary program for farmers and landowners, administered at the state level as a tool to protect farmland from the “urbanization of rural areas.” Township supervisors handle the petitions for ASA designation status.
Sheila Stanifer, Perry Township Trustee, has a problem with these conservation easements. According to the Ohio Revised Code 901-2-01 definitions, “‘local sponsor’ or ‘applicant’ means a municipal corporation, county, township, soil and water conservation district, or charitable organization that applies for a matching grant on behalf of the landowner.” The problem arises from the fact that ‘soil and water’ are taking the place of elected officials; charitable trusts (namely land trusts) are not elected officials either, they are land brokers working for the state government as a so-called ‘sponsor.’”
In the first and second paragraphs of the federal deed contract mentions are made of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), a government-owned and operated organization created to “stabilize, support, and protect farm income and prices, maintain balanced and adequate supplies of agricultural commodities and aids in their orderly distribution.” CCC has no operating personnel; its activity is carried out by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). The Natural Resources Conservation Service administers several conservation programs under the auspices of CCC.
CCC has an authorized capital stock of $100 million, held by the United States, with the authority to have outstanding borrowing of up to $30 billion at any one time. The 1988 Appropriation Act increased the statutory borrowing authority to $30 billion. The funds are borrowed from the U.S. Treasury and from private lending agencies. CCC reserves borrowing authority to purchase at any time all notes and other obligations made by such agencies and others. That is a lot of power over farm activities!
Many of these land trusts are also staffed with environmental activists who have never farmed in their lives nor have ever entertained the idea. They want the land preserved for wilderness. Additionally, it is much cheaper and easier to control densely populated urban areas than it is to control rural populations spread over vast areas.
Seventeen years ago on July 1, 1998, David F. Latham, editor of The Montanian, published a front page article titled “FWP plans big changes in hunting and rural living, Social engineering is in the works.” The Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) in Montana had prepared a document called the Wildlife Program Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement at a cost of $600,000.
Lincoln County commissioner at the time, Rita Windom, said that only seven meetings took place in Montana to inform citizens about the “big changes planned for the way it (FWP) manages wildlife, hunting, and rural living patterns” and she happened to have attended one of these meetings in 1992. Incidentally, 1992 is the year when U.N. Agenda 21 was signed in Rio by 179 countries, including the U.S.
Even though limited public input was permitted during poorly advertised meetings, some of which had only nine people in attendance, the ultimate decision-maker was the FWP. Windom added that the FWP document “includes plans to manipulate human populations in rural areas.”
“They are saying they want social changes. They talk about the increasing importance of environmental concerns nationally, and the increasing reliance on referendums and grass-roots politics for political change. They [FWP] say that social and economic values towards natural resources are becoming less consumptive… nationally. The emergence of the animal rights movement exemplifies national pressure to shift to a less consumptive use at state and local levels,” Windom said, referring to the FWP environmental impact statement plan.
As quoted in the front page article, Windom added that [FWP] “is going to change the use of the land and take the personal property off the land on conservation easements, which would mean ranchers and farmers could no longer use the land the way it is currently being used. That is a big departure to the way we have known conservation easements in the past.” Windom explained that “the plan would in essence tax rural property owners for the wildlife on their property.”
David F. Latham wrote that Commissioner Windom recalled how “one employee of FWP told her the plan is designed to push rural residents into urban areas.” As many residents asked hard questions, the FWP state land manager, Darlene Edge, told Lincoln County commissioner Rita Windom, “Can’t you see we are doing you a favor by forcing people to move from the rural areas into the urban areas. That way you can close roads… Why don’t you work with us and move these people out of the rural areas and into the urban areas so cities can shoulder more of the responsibilities and the county can save money?”
A quick check of the Wildlands Project Map reveals the “simulated reserve and corridor system to protect biodiversity as mandated by the Convention on Biological Diversity, The Wildland Project, U.N. and U.S. Man and Biosphere Program, and Various U.N., U.S. Heritage Programs, and Nafta.” The vast majority of U.S. land is pictured in red, with “little to no human use,” and in yellow, “buffer zones with highly regulated use.”
The Convention on Biological Diversity passed the Senate Foreign Relation Committee by a vote of 16-3 on June 29, 1994. However, one hour before a scheduled vote by the Senate, “the treaty was pulled from the calendar and a vote on the treaty was never taken.” But the Clinton administration implemented the treaty anyway through a policy called “Ecosystem Management.” (A Short Course in Global Governance, Henry Lamb, Sovereignty International, Inc., p. 12, 2010)
David Latham wrote in the Montanian that FWP sent letters to the Amish community in the West Kootenai and had an ‘informational meeting’ to “show them that conservation easements weren’t all that bad,” said Windom. Windom expressed her frustration with the secrecy of FWP, “in my opinion they purposely didn’t disseminate these documents.”
As more and more farmers are voluntarily trapped in conservation easements for years or in perpetuity, they are finding out that the terms of the contract can be draconian, with little recourse or defense from state and local governments.
Few states like Virginia were successful in passing laws to protect farmers from the intrusion of government with U.N. Sustainable Development plans, but these laws do not go far enough. U.N. Agenda 21 goals through its Sustainable Development lynchpin have encroached private property rights like kudzu.
I am grateful to David F. Latham, editor of the Montanian, who had to search his pre-digital archives to accommodate my request on such a short notice.
I am also grateful to Sheila Stanifer, Perry Township Trustee from Ohio , for her valuable research contribution (links).
COPYRIGHT: Ileana Johnson 2015

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