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Conserving The Health Of Our Local Forest Community

NEW HAVEN RIVER HEADWATERS

CONSERVATION PROJECT

Click on the links below for more information about specific aspects of the project.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the New Haven River Headwaters Conservation Project?

The New Haven River Headwaters Conservation Project is a grassroots project initiated by Lincoln landowners. Its goal is to maintain the character and traditional uses of the town’s landscape (as articulated in the Lincoln Town Plan) by enabling interested landowners to collaboratively seek long-term land conservation through conservation easements.


2. What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency in which a property owner agrees to certain land use restrictions in order to protect the land’s conservation values in perpetuity.


When you donate or sell a conservation easement, you agree to give up some of the rights associated with the land. For example, you might give up the right to build additional residences, while retaining the right to farm or to harvest trees (easements often include language that permits construction of outbuildings, like sugarhouses and sheds, needed for carrying out farm and forest activities). Donating or selling a conservation easement often has significant tax benefits for the property owner (see question #6 for details).


When you place a conservation easement on your land, you continue to own and use your land and can sell it or pass it on to heirs. Future owners will also be bound by the easement's terms. The land trust is responsible for making sure the easement's terms are followed. A landowner and land trust work together to write a conservation easement that reflects the landowner's needs and desires.


3. What’s the advantage of a collaborative conservation approach?

Placing a conservation easement on a piece of land costs money, often thousands of dollars. There are both federal programs and foundations that provide funding to help cover those costs. Though a single parcel of land is unlikely to attract such funding, funders are strongly attracted to collaborative efforts to conserve land. Thus, collaboration allows landowners to pool legal, appraisal, monitoring, and administrative costs and attract funding. Also, neighbors benefit mutually when both put easements on their land.

4. Has this conservation model been successfully implemented elsewhere in Vermont?

Yes! Landowners in Orange County initiated the Orange County Headwaters Project in 2003. There, 21 landowners who own 25 parcels of land totaling nearly 3,600 acres in the towns of Washington and Corinth have been working together to place easements on their properties.


Since 2003, the Chittenden County Uplands Conservation Project (CCUCP) has worked to collaboratively conserve working forests and farms in a 10,000 acre area between Mount Mansfield State Forest and Camel’s Hump. As of February, 2006, 12 parcels of land encompassing 3921 acres have been conserved as part of the CCUCP effort, and a number of other parcels are being evaluated for conservation.


5. Who benefits from long-term land conservation through conservation easements?

Everyone does. For families, long-term conservation ensures that lands with important personal significance will be protected. Conserving farmland ensures that future generations will have an agricultural land base.


Foresters, loggers, and truckers benefit from the conservation of good-quality, well-managed woodlands. Hikers, skiers, hunters, and anglers benefit from the recreational access that is often a key piece of conservation projects. The Vermont business community benefits from the conservation of Vermont’s scenic beauty and rural character. Land conservation helps communities achieve their natural resource goals, by protecting the lands that do much to create each town’s distinctive character.


6. How would a conservation easement affect me economically?

A landowner sometimes sells a conservation easement (this is particularly the case with qualifying farmland), but usually easements are donated. This donation can qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation. The amount of the donation is the difference between the land's full development value and conservation easement-restricted value.


A conservation easement can also be an essential tool for passing land on to the next generation. By removing the land's development potential, the easement lowers its market value, which in turn lowers estate taxes. Whether the easement is donated during life or by will, it can make a critical difference in the heirs' ability to keep the land intact. In most cases, the easement does not affect property taxes.


7. What is the minimum acreage needed to participate in the New Haven River Headwaters Project?

Generally speaking, 50 acres is the lower limit. That’s not a hard and fast number—occasionally, if a piece of land has particular ecological, cultural, or scenic value (let’s say, for example, that it includes a popular swimming hole), or if it’s adjacent to other conserved lands, it may be eligible for a conservation easement even if it’s less than 50 acres.


8. If I place a conservation easement on my land, do I lose my ability to actively manage my forest or farmlands?

No. One of the purposes of conservation easements is to allow working forests and farms to remain working. Through the easement process, you develop a management plan (which many landowners already have, through participation in the Current Use Tax Program) and continue to work with the land and gain income from forest and farm products.


9. I want my children to be able to live on the land and build homes of their own some day. Can I allow for that and still obtain a conservation easement?

Yes. Landowners often set aside a portion of their acreage for potential future development before placing an easement on the remainder of their property.


10. If I place a conservation easement on my land, am I required to allow public access to my land?

That depends upon the easement holder you work with. The Vermont Land Trust and the Northeast Wilderness Trust (two regional land trusts who have worked in Lincoln) do not require public access. The Forest Legacy program, a federal cost-share program that provides funds for purchasing conservation easements, does require pedestrian access, including hunting and fishing. We will work with you to find an easement situation that meets your needs.


11. What role does Vermont Family Forests play in the project?

Vermont Family Forests has a decade of experience with forest conservation and education outreach work in Addison County. Because of this, Lincoln landowners who developed the idea for the New Haven River Headwaters Project asked VFF to oversee the outreach and administration of the project. As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, VFF can receive and administer any grant funds allocated to the project.