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Jim Hoy: Conservation easements good for Kansas

  • Published Tuesday, March 18, 2014, at 12 a.m.

In 2007, my wife and I, in consultation with our children, placed a conservation easement on our Flint Hills ranch near Cassoday with Ranchland Trust of Kansas. The open range that my grandfather rode when he loose-herded cattle in the Flint Hills is now fenced, but cattle still graze on our grass, just as they did then.

Our ranch remains in production, it remains on the tax rolls, it can be bought and sold, and it can be passed down to our heirs, but the conservation easement guarantees that this land will continue to provide grass for cattle and beef for tables, in perpetuity.

Conservation easements can provide certain income opportunities and tax benefits, but landowners who enter into these agreements do so not primarily for financial considerations, but because they share a visionary passion for the natural beauty and richness of the land. That is the heart of a conservation easement – nothing more, nothing less.

Unfortunately, the Kansas Senate is considering a measure that would kill conservation easements. It’s bad for Kansas and the people who live here.

Senate Bill 323 proposes to limit conservation easements to the granting landowner’s discretion or, at the longest, his lifetime. Such a restriction negates all of the financial and most of the ecological value of conservation easements. If this bill becomes law, Kansas will become one of only two states to limit conservation easements’ utility for the stewardship of important wild places.

In addition to the pointless loss of a powerful conservation partnership tool, SB 323 runs counter to private landownership rights. In certain areas – where ecological and scenic richness intersects with the land ethic and tradition of ranching families – easements are used to permanently safeguard strategically identified landscapes. These landscapes include places like the Flint Hills, the Red Hills and the Smoky Hills. Also important, easements in these areas help to protect some of Kansas’ purest streams and groundwater supplies.

If enacted, this bill would put at risk the future of Fort Riley in Kansas, where conservation easements provide the space it needs to train the way it fights. It would also negatively affect the growing tourism industry of Kansas’ scenic landscapes and hunting and outdoor opportunities.

Conservation easements are the single best tool for achieving large landscape protection while leaving private lands in private ownership and management.

Responsible legislators should not support SB 323.

Jim Hoy is a professor of English at Emporia State University.

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