Constraints and Opportunities of Conservation Easements as a Tool for Agricultural Preservation in the Blackfoot Valley, Montana

by Huth, Megan

Abstract (Summary)
Huth, Megan, M.S., May 2007 Resource Conservation The Constraints and Opportunities of Conservation Easements as a Tool for Agricultural Preservation in the Blackfoot Valley, Montana Chairperson: Jill Belsky Conservation easements have historically been used by land trusts and government agencies to preserve private land from development and subdivision, to preserve unique geological features, and protect fish and wildlife habitat. The national and Montana state conservation easement legislation does not explicitly state agricultural land as a conservation value that they aim to preserve. As such, land trusts and government agencies that are the holders of conservation easements do not typically identify working farms and ranches as key conservation areas. In light of agricultural land taking a backseat to scenic views, historical buildings, and wildlife habitat, the purpose of this paper has been to examine conservation easements as an effective tool to preserve agricultural land in western Montana, specifically the Blackfoot Valley. To that end, this paper: 1. Reviews the background of conservation easements in the United States and Montana, including the benefits and challenges involved, 2. Examines the demographic and agricultural changes to the Blackfoot Valley, and 3. Discusses the constraints and opportunities of conservation easements as a tool for the preservation of agricultural land, including the importance of flexibility in an easement agreement. This paper then puts forth the implications for preserving agricultural lands using conservation easements in the Blackfoot Valley, Montana and elsewhere. This paper argues that conservation easements are an important tool for limiting development and subdivision on agricultural lands but they cannot ensure that these lands will be productive or economically viable. The flexibility to modify easement agreements in response to economic, environmental, cultural, and scientific changes and discoveries, now and in the future, could have a large impact on easement effectiveness. Conservation easements provide financial benefits, such as payment for the purchase of an easement or income and estate tax deductions for donated easements, that are not only an incentive to farmers and ranchers to put an easement on their property, but a means to maintain a viable business. Easements, through the land trusts and government agencies holding them, can also be a source of technical advice to farmers and ranchers.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Jill Belsky; Martin Nie; Neva Hassanein

School:The University of Montana

School Location:USA - Montana

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:society and conservation


Date of Publication:07/23/2007

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