Con­ser­vancy group talks ways it pre­serves land

Tax ben­e­fits avail­able for pre­serv­ing land with Con­ser­vancy for Charles County

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By PAUL LA­GASSE pla­gasse@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @PaulIndyNews

The mis­sion of the Con­ser­vancy for Charles County can per­haps best be sum­ma­rized by a quote from Amer­i­can ecol­o­gist Aldo Leopold, who said, “Con­ser­va­tion will ul­ti­mately boil down to re­ward­ing the pri­vate landowner who con­serves the pub­lic in­ter­est.”

“What Leopold meant was there’s no way that gov­ern­ment can buy up all the land that we need to keep in a nat­u­ral state or as an open space,” ex­plained Wal­ter H. “Hal” De­la­plane, pres­i­dent of the con­ser­vancy.

In­stead, non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Con­ser­vancy for Charles County work with lo­cal landown­ers to make it pos­si­ble for the own­ers them­selves to pre­serve the land. This is done us­ing an in­ge­nious type of con­tract called a con­ser­va­tion ease­ment.

“Con­ser­va­tion ease­ments pro­vide landown­ers with sig­nif­i­cant tax ben­e­fits for vol­un­tar­ily giv­ing up some or all of the devel­op­ment rights to their land,” De­la­plane said. “The landowner vol­un­tar­ily con­tracts with a qual­i­fied pri­vate land con­ser­va­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion, like the Con­ser­vancy for Charles County, to hold the ease­ment in per­pe­tu­ity.”

In ex­change for agree­ing to re­strict or pre­vent devel­op­ment on the land, the owner re­ceives ei­ther fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion or, in the case of the Con­ser­vancy for Charles County, a va­ri­ety of state and lo­cal tax ben­e­fits.

Cur­rently, there are more than 1,700 pri­vate land con­ser­va­tion or­ga­ni­za­tions, also com­monly called land trusts, ac­tive in the United States. Some are re­spon­si­ble for main­tain­ing ease­ments on a sin­gle prop­erty. Oth­ers, like the Con­ser­vancy for Charles County, are re­spon­si­ble for all ease­ments in a county. Oth­ers are re­gional. In Min­nesota, one land trust safe­guards ease­ments through­out the en­tire state.

Re­gard­less of the size of the or­ga­ni­za­tion, the process of ac­quir­ing a con­ser­va­tion ease­ment is pretty much the same. When a landowner con­tacts the con­ser­vancy, De­la­plane or an­other rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the or­ga­ni­za­tion vis­its the land to de­ter­mine whether it meets any of sev­eral cri­te­ria. If it does, the con­ser­vancy pre­pares an eval­u­a­tion and pro­vides the landowner with in­for­ma­tion on how to ap­ply for the ease­ment. A deed is then drafted and, when ap­proved by the con­ser­vancy’s board, signed and filed with the county’s land records of­fice.

Cri­te­ria in­clude: Does the land pro­tect a nat­u­ral habi­tat or ecosys­tem? Does it pre­serve an open space for pub­lic en­joy­ment or for the pub­lic ben­e­fit? Is the land his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant? Can it be used for pub­lic re­cre­ation or ed­u­ca­tion? If it meets one or more of th­ese cri­te­ria, it may be el­i­gi­ble for a con­ser­va­tion ease­ment.

It’s a com­pli­cated process, and what makes it even more chal­leng­ing is that it takes place largely out of the view of the pub­lic. Un­like other na­ture or­ga­ni­za­tions, the con­ser­vancy doesn’t in­vite peo­ple to take na­ture hikes, clean up pol­lu­tion or count fish. “The land is pri­vately owned and not open for pub­lic ac­cess,” De­la­plane said. “We can’t take peo­ple on tours and let them look at prop­er­ties.”

As a re­sult, it’s hard to com­pete for the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion. “We have over 400 non­prof­its in Charles County, and they’re all en­gaged in im­por­tant and worth­while things,” De­la­plane said. “Try­ing to raise aware­ness of the need for our mis­sion can be a tough sell.”

The all-vol­un­teer Con­ser­vancy for Charles County is a mem­ber­ship or­ga­ni­za­tion funded by dues, do­na­tions, state grants and a smat­ter­ing of fundrais­ing. That makes it hard too, and De­la­plane is al­ways look­ing for skilled and knowl­edge­able vol­un­teers to help.

In his own case, De­la­plane vol­un­teered be­cause of his back­ground as an oceanog­ra­pher for the Navy. He spent decades ex­plor­ing ecosys­tems in the Arc­tic and all along the coast­line of the United States be­fore be­com­ing, as he put it, “a fed­eral sci­en­tist and a bu­reau­crat.” When he was in­vited to join the board of the con­ser­vancy, he didn’t hes­i­tate.

“The whole idea of go­ing out on prop­er­ties out in the swamps of South­ern Mary­land re­ally ap­pealed to me,” he said. “The fun part was go­ing out on th­ese site vis­its. Of course, I should have had enough ex­pe­ri­ence to know that 80 to 90 per­cent of the work was go­ing to be pa­per­work,” he added with a wry chuckle.

De­la­plane’s friend Lloyd Bowl­ing, a re­tired pro­fes­sor of au­di­ol­ogy at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity and a mem­ber of the con­ser­vancy’s board, put his 30-acre prop­erty in Al­lens Fresh into a con­ser­va­tion ease­ment to pre­serve its his­tory for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. The prop­erty is the last par­cel of what had been a 1,600-acre “manor grant” deeded to wealthy English physi­cian Thomas Ger­ard by King Charles I in 1651. The manor house on the prop­erty dates from the early 1700s, when the land was owned by Charles Car­roll of Car­roll­ton, one of the sign­ers of the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence.

Grow­ing up on a farm ad­ja­cent to the prop­erty, Bowl­ing watched as parcels of the prop­erty were grad­u­ally sold off to be turned into farms or other de­vel­op­ments. He de­vel­oped an at­tach­ment to the run­down manor house, and even­tu­ally in­her­ited the prop­erty from his fa­ther, who pur­chased it from Bowl­ing’s great aunt and un­cle.

“When I got [the prop­erty], I knew I didn’t want any­thing else built around it,” Bowl­ing re­called. “I wanted to save this, and that’s why I put in a con­ser­va­tion ease­ment.” Bowl­ing, 87, said that his two sons will have the op­tion to buy the prop­erty when he passes away. “If they don’t want it, I told them to sell it to some­body who would love it and care for it.”

Bowl­ing said that con­ser­va­tion ease­ments are a great way for fam­i­lies to pass land from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion while also ef­fi­ciently man­ag­ing a fi­nite re­source.

“As my grand­fa­ther would tell me, ‘Buy as much land as you can be­cause, they’re not mak­ing it any­more,’” Bowl­ing said.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY PAUL LA­GASSE

Wal­ter H. “Hal” De­la­plane, pres­i­dent of the Con­ser­vancy of Charles County, re­tired from a ca­reer as an oceanog­ra­pher for the Navy be­fore join­ing the con­ser­vancy.

Lloyd Bowl­ing, a re­tired pro­fes­sor of au­di­ol­ogy at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, used a con­ser­va­tion ease­ment to pre­serve a manor house and sur­round­ing land that had once been owned by Charles Car­roll, one of the sign­ers of the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence.

Al­lens Fresh res­i­dent Lloyd Bowl­ing in­her­ited 30 acres of his­toric land from his fa­ther, which he later do­nated to the Con­ser­vancy of Charles County as a con­ser­va­tion ease­ment to en­sure it is pre­served in its nat­u­ral state in per­pe­tu­ity.

Al­lens Fresh res­i­dent Lloyd Bowl­ing do­nated a con­ser­va­tion ease­ment to the Con­ser­vancy of Charles County to pre­serve 30 acres of land orig­i­nally deeded to English set­tler Thomas Ger­ard by King Charles I in 1651.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CON­SER­VANCY FOR CHARLES COUNTY

A Con­ser­vancy for Charles County vol­un­teer mon­i­tors a con­ser­va­tion ease­ment con­sist­ing of a high-qual­ity stream in an up­land for­est.

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