Land Con­ser­vancy work­ing for the fu­ture

Home - Santa Fe Real Estate Guide - - FRONT PAGE - By Paul Wei­de­man

beau­ti­ful ranch east of Ra­ton will re­main in tra­di­tional agri­cul­tural use and at the same time con­tinue to pro­vide habi­tat for pronghorn, cougar, deer, and many other species thanks to con­ser­va­tion ease­ments ne­go­ti­ated by the owner and the New Mex­ico Land Con­ser­vancy.

The ease­ments, com­pleted in April 2016, ap­ply on 3,560 acres of the larger Mesa Ranch. The ranch is man­aged for cat­tle graz­ing, but the landowner is com­mit­ted to sus­tain­able agri­cul­tural prac­tices. The area un­der ease­ment takes in sec­tions of John­son Mesa and Tay­lor Canyon, the land­scapes in­clud­ing na­tive grass­land and ar­eas pop­u­lated by piñon, ju­niper, pon­derosa pine, oak, and Douglas-fir. The ease­ments pro­tect the land from de­vel­op­ment into the fu­ture.

This is one of the most re­cent of nearly 80 projects un­der the con­ser­vancy’s belt. “We are the statewide land trust for New Mex­ico,” said ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Scot­tWil­ber. “We have over 160,000 acres con­served un­der ease­ments. They have av­er­aged 2,000 acres, but we have also done small agri­cul­tural ease­ments like the one we did in the vil­lage of Corrales to sup­port their farm­land preser­va­tion pro­gram. That’s how I first met Sayre Gerhart, who is an ar­chi­tect from Corrales and our new board chair.

“We also try to pre­serve some of these big ranches. If I said we had any kind of spe­cific ori­en­ta­tion, I would say we’ve con­cen­trated on ranch­land pro­tec­tion in the last few years.” The New Mex­ico Land Con­ser­vancy (NMLC) has fo­cused on the north­east and south­west por­tions of the state, part­ner­ing, for ex­am­ple, with the CS Ranch and Fort Union Ranch to pro­tect pri­vate lands that will pro­vide con­nec­tiv­ity in wildlife habi­tat.

The con­ser­va­tion ease­ment is a unique tool avail­able for the pro­tec­tion of wildlife habi­tat, pro­duc­tive agri­cul­tural land, and wa­ter resources, as well as recre­ational ar­eas and scenic views, from sub­di­vi­sion and de­vel­op­ment. The landowner agrees to vol­un­tar­ily give up part or all of his or her de­vel­op­ment rights, in per­pe­tu­ity. The motivation can be con­ser­va­tion or keep­ing the farm or ranch in the fam­ily and in pro­duc­tion, while re­ceiv­ing com­pen­sa­tion in the form of tax de­duc­tions.

The ease­ment process is flex­i­ble, es­pe­cially re­gard­ing which parts of the prop- erty are to be pro­tected. “There’s a lot of tai­lor­ing,” Wilber said, “but ob­vi­ously there are some min­i­mum­cri­te­ria that have to be met in or­der to qual­ify them for fed­eral and state tax ben­e­fits, which is the driv­ing force be­hind these ease­ment do­na­tions and the land-con­ser­va­tion move­ment. At the fed­eral level, there’s a sub­stan­tial do­na­tion avail­able and even more sub­stan­tial in the last year, since Con­gress fi­nally made the con­ser­va­tion-ease­ment de­duc­tion per­ma­nent. Landown­ers who earn at least 50 per­cent of their in­come from agri­cul­ture can ac­tu­ally take a 100 per­cent de­duc­tion: they can write off 100 per­cent of the value of these ease­ments.

“Let’s say a rancher with 2,000 acres do­nates an ease­ment worth $1 mil­lion. The land trust com­mu­nity has worked with Con­gress to ex­pand the time frame within which these de­duc­tions can be taken, from six to 16 years. If your in­come is $100,000 a year and you had that $1 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion, you could write off $100,000 a year for 10 years. In the past you could­write off $30,000 a year for five years. So we’ve bet­ter en­abled them to uti­lize the full value of their con­tri­bu­tion.”

At the state level, there is a tax credit for 50 per­cent of the value of the ease­ment do­na­tion, up to $250,000. “The other im­por­tant el­e­ment is we made that credit trans­fer­able, so some­one who do­nates an ease­ment can ei­ther use the credit to off­set the state tax li­a­bil­ity for up to 20 years or they can take these cred­its and sell them on the open­mar­ket for roughly 80 per­cent of their value.”

Real­tor MooThorpe, who was in­volved for about 10 years as a board mem­ber on the con­ser­vancy, men­tioned an­other way peo­ple can use the ease­ments: “If you have a fam­ily ranch and most of the kids don’t re­ally want to ranch, you can raise funds for your es­tate plan­ning with your fam­ily. You can do a con­ser­va­tion ease­ment and sell the tax cred­its to an in­vestor and get some cash. It’s a way to keep the fam­ily as­sets and pro­tect the ranch from get­ting de­vel­oped.”

The NMLC has ex­panded from a staff of two to a staff of seven in the last cou­ple of years. All but one work out of the Petch­esky Con­ser­va­tion Cen­ter on Santa Fe’s south side. It was for­merly the ranch home of Gene and Jane Petch­esky. A pas­sion­ate conservationist, Jane Petch­esky do­nated the ranch house and 262 acres of land to the con­ser­vancy in 2009. The staffer who is not in Santa Fe is Ron Troy, who mans the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s only satel­lite of­fice, in Sil­ver City.

Con­nor Jan­dreau, NMLC stew­ard­ship co­or­di­na­tor, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s process varies from case to case. “We of­ten re­spond to landown­er­swho come to us with an in­ter­est and a need to do some­thing like this, but we’re also out look­ing. We do GIS map­ping to as­sess the bio­di­ver­sity and con­ser­va­tion val­ues across the state to de­ter­mine where we should or can fo­cus our resources. Part of the rea­son that Ron is down in Sil­ver City is be­cause that’s a re­ally rich eco­log­i­cal re­gion with a lot of con­ser­va­tion val­ues that we’ve iden­ti­fied, par­tic­u­larly along ri­par­ian cor­ri­dors.”

Does the con­ser­vancy seek prop­er­ties that will help pro­tect species that are en­dan­gered or threat­ened? “That is an im­por­tant con­ser­va­tion value and a fund­ing op­por­tu­nity for us,” he re­sponded. “It helps to at­tract fed­eral dollars when we’re bring­ing projects to the table that will im­prove habi­tat, for ex­am­ple. So it runs the gamut from prop­er­ties that are re­ally op­er­at­ing

PHOTOS AND MAP COUR­TESY NEW MEX­ICO LAND CON­SER­VANCY

Truchas Lake pho­tographed by Con­nor Jan­dreau

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